EVANS, Ga. (WJBF) – Family members, gathered on Clarks Hill Lake at the Lake Springs Recreation area. That’s where the Department of Natural Resources discovered the body of 60-year-old Lt. Ralph Jenkins of the Augusta fire department floating more than 30 feet deep in the water. That area is blocked off so the family can mourn.
“I felt like their reaction was like anybody else that would be going through something like this, they were just kind of shocked at the moment,” says Cpl. Bobby Timmerman, with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.
Lt Jenkins went missing Friday. A spokesperson with DNR says he was on a boat when he disappeared.
He says, “we recieved a call of a person in distress, we got to the scene at Lake Springs, it’s one of the core parks on Clarks Hill Lake, when we arrived we found the boat was floating some witnesses stated the subject went into the water for unknown reasons and never resurfaced.”
That’s when DNR and the Columbia County Sheriff’s office began their search.
“We brought our patrol boats out with the sonar, Columbia County dive team, and their sherff’s office responded we started doing surface scans, and then searching under water with the sonar and using the divers we ran that all the way from yesterday till dark we actually ran that till about 2:30 this morning,” says Cpl. Timmerman.
Right now DNR is still trying to piece together what exactly led to Lt. Jenkins’ drowning.
He says, “The investigation itself is still kind of pending, because it appears that it was probably a boating incident versus just a drowning.”
Cpl. Timmerman says there have been different stories about why he jumped into the lake. Right now, the agency is going off of witness statements.
“It appears at this moment that his boat may have, or prop may have gotten entangled in a boat’s keep out area at the lake it’s actually bouyed off with floats and signs that say boats keep out, we don’t know if he just kind of floated into that and maybe turned the boat and the propgot tangled in it or if it was already broken”
The Augusta Fire Department released this statement after family members ID’d Lt. Jenkins body.
They say quote, “Lt. Jenkins came from a firefighting family, was known in the Department as a person who could be counted on for a good laugh, and served the people of Augusta, Georgia for 40 years.” For now, the Department and its firefighters will grieve this tremendous loss.” End quote.
“In my career, I don’t know that I’ve ever had any back to back like this so I don’t know if it’s because we have more people on the waterways or if it’s just a run of bad luck,” says Cpl. Timmerman.
He says most of the incidents could’ve been prevented.
“Had anyone of these victims, during the past incidents had a life jacket on, and it was secured and fastened, we probably wouldn’t be dealing with any of this right now, ” he said.
Game Wardens located Jenkins with side-scan sonar at approximately 9:39 on Saturday, May 22.
Divers found him in 34 feet of water a short time later, according to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.
The Augusta Fire Department issued the following statement:
The Augusta Fire Department is heartbroken about the confirmation that Friday night’s drowning victim at Clarks Hill Lake is firefighter Lt. Ralph Jenkins.
The Department is confident the Columbia County Fire Department, Columbia County Sheriff’s Office and other agencies did their best to try to save Lt. Jenkins. At this time, the Department can confirm his body has been recovered.
The details that led to this terrible event are still being investigated, and the Department respects that process.
“On behalf of the entire Augusta firefighting community, I am disheartened to report this crushing loss of one of our own,” said Interim Fire Chief Shaw Williams, Jr. “Lt. Jenkins came from a firefighting family, was known in the Department as a person who could be counted on for a good laugh, and served the people of Augusta, Georgia for 40 years.”
For now, the Department and its firefighters will grieve this tremendous loss.