Teen drowns in Eno outing

Rescue efforts fail in Durham

Staff WriterApril 6, 2005 

A warm-weather outing ended in panic and sorrow Tuesday when a teenager drowned while swimming with friends in the Eno River.

Johnny Adams Jr. IV, a 17-year-old Southern High School student who lived at 1000 Ruby St. in Durham, was out with a group of friends at West Point on the Eno in northern Durham. The group was swimming at a popular spot called Sennett Hole, where the water was more than 20 feet deep, authorities said. Suddenly, Adams sank under the swirling water and disappeared.

About 4:45 p.m., rescue workers learned of a possible drowning at West Point on the Eno, a city park that surrounds a stretch of the Eno River. At first, the emergency crews went to the park entrance off Roxboro Road, said Kevin Wilson, educational coordinator for Durham County EMS.

But the teens were actually on the other side of the park near the intersection of Lochaven and Wanda Ridge drives, down a quarter-mile wooded trail.

As the teenagers frantically searched for their friend and waited for rescue crews, one of the teens rushed up the trail and ran into resident Phyllis Pool.

"He was shaken and wet," Pool said. "He said he'd tried to get the boy out, but he couldn't find him." Pool said she called 911 again and told rescue crews that the emergency was on the other side of the park, off Latta Road.

The rescue teams came from all directions and converged at the spot where seven teenagers remained, Wilson said. The teens stood on the Eno's banks, some shivering in their bathing suits, looking for signs of Adams. While workers searched the banks of the river, a swift-water rescue crew looked from a boat, Wilson said.

After about 30 minutes, the search and rescue turned into an effort to recover Adams' body, Wilson said. Too much time had passed, Wilson said.

Just before 7 p.m., a group of four boys and three girls clad in bathing suits emerged from the woods with authorities. They sobbed and held onto each other as the search continued.

As the sunlight was starting to fade about 45 minutes later, the rescue workers announced they had found him. Word traveled to the more than three dozen members of Adams' family and their friends who had gathered at the bottom of a hill on Lochaven Drive.

After three hours, emergency crews had pulled Adams from a 20-foot depth.

One distraught family member yelled to the teenagers that they had stood by and watched Adams drown. "It's not our fault," one girl whispered.

Minutes later, the anger and accusations subsided. The two sides converged in the street, and there was only grief. Adams' mother walked over to two of Adams' teenage friends. She wrapped her arms around them.

"I'm so sorry," one girl sobbed into the woman's shoulder.

Adams' body was taken to the state Office of the Chief Medical Examiner for an autopsy. The Durham Police Department will conduct a death investigation to determine the official circumstances of Adams' death.

(Staff writer Nikole Hannah-Jones contributed to this report.)

Staff writer Samiha Khanna can be reached at 956-2468 or skhanna@newsobserver.com.

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