Columbus mother creates life jacket station at Chattahoochee river
The donated life jacket stand has been removed from next to the downtown Columbus whitewater, where a 6-year-old boy drowned three weekends ago in the Chattahoochee River after slipping off the rocks.
Uptown Columbus president Ross Horner cited safety as the reason he removed the approximately 20 life jackets Friday morning after consulting with other officials. His nonprofit is the sole member of Whitewater Management LLC, which contracts with Whitewater Express and leases the Waveshaper Island property from the city.
Public safety officials were concerned, Horner said, that people were using the life jackets to swim in the rapids, which is prohibited, and that the life jackets aren’t designed to be used in whitewater.
He said the mayor’s river safety task force intends to redeploy the life jackets at spots along the river where the water is calmer and those types of life jackets are more appropriate.
Two days after first responders recovered the boy’s body down river, concerned Columbus mom Tina Peavey and family members erected a makeshift life jacket station at the island along the Chattathoochee Riverwalk. The area overlooks the rocks that form the final rapids of RushSouth Whitewater Park, the world’s longest urban rafting course at 2.5 miles.
Since then, others also have placed life jackets on the island. The life jackets are known as “Jeremiah’s Jackets” in memory of the drowning victim.
Peavey is “very upset” about the decision. She told the Ledger-Enquirer she removed from the station any donated life jacket she saw that wasn’t approved by the Coast Guard. She also added a “NO SWIMMING IN RAPIDS” warning to the life jacket station, which is a few feet from one of the city’s signs mandating a personal flotation device for any water activity in the river.
“The sign specifically says this is not to be used in the whitewater,” she said. “This is to stop people slipping off the rocks and drowning in the water by accident.”
She added, “As I told Ross at Uptown Columbus, this will be on them, because they are not protecting our children. … I’m still witnessing people without life jackets on the rocks.”
Horner, however, said this decision is based on safety.
Responding to Peavey’s assertion, Horner told the Ledger-Enquirer, “In this instance, we’ve had Ms. Peavey and other individuals who have done something really good to try to prevent something, and this good deed has had unintended consequences. We’ve leaned on the experts, and when the experts have told us that they need to be removed, … we’ve made that decision to ensure that people aren’t going to misuse these life jackets.”
Before deciding to remove the life jackets, Horner said, he consulted with Mayor Skip Henderson and Columbus Homeland Security Director Robert Futrell, who also is the assistant Fire & EMS chief.
Horner said he plans to confer with Peavey and other leaders of the Jeremiah’s Jackets project to determine “a better area where they can be useful.”
“All of this is being done as the task force is working through a process of creating or updating signage or guidelines,” he said.
Although no deaths or injuries have been linked to the donated life jackets, Horner said, officials have seen enough dangerous situations to be concerned. They are trying to strike the balance between overreacting and underreacting.
“We’re engaging experts from around the country and making sure we’re taking a methodical approach to this,” he said.
Peavey said she also has placed four life jackets on the Phenix City side of the river as well as six each at lakes Oliver, Goat Rock and Harding.