A hectic, tragic July 4th weekend: "probably double" the emergency calls this year

by Donald Brickner, Staff Writer

Two drownings, a critical injury, and "probably double" the number of fire, emergency and police calls compared to the July 4th weekend last year highlighted a hectic and tragic holiday weekend at Canyon Lake this year.

According to Captain Mark Montgomery, shift leader at the Canyon Lake Fire/EMS Department on Sunday and Monday, 71 calls came into fire/EMS crews over the holiday weekend (from Friday to Monday) that resulting in incidents of personal tragedy, illegal fires and overextended emergency crews.

Two of those calls were related to deaths due to drownings while another focused on an individual who critically injured one of his four companions by hitting him with a baseball bat. Approximately a quarter of the calls were related to "heavy alcohol," Montgomery said, while the overwhelming majority were related to illegal use of firecrackers and burnings due to negligence.

"The number of calls was probably double what we had during the Fourth of July weekend last year," Montgomery said. "Apart from the drownings and possibly the baseball bat injury, there were no deaths, and no significant damage due to the fires - but it did cause us to (temporarily) lose crews to fires (in lieu of) people that were severely hurt.

"We had a lot of calls - maybe 25 percent of the weekend's total, particularly along the Guadlupe River - that were related to heavy alcohol use. And in many of those, people were inebriated to the point of unconsciousness," said Montgomery. "The majority of our guys worked double shifts on Sunday and Monday."

Ironically, while there were more than 20 emergency calls on Sunday, there were no fires reported at all in Canyon Lake or along the Guadalupe River, Montgomery added.

The first of the drownings occurred in Canyon Lake near Holiday Lodge on Skyline Drive. No further details were available at presstime.

In the second drowning, in Comal Park on Monday, Montgomery himself was called to the scene shortly after 2 p.m. and was the first diver to search underwater for the body of 15-year-old Julian Bocanegra of San Antonio. After swimming down between 1 to 55 feet beneath the water and unable to find the body, San Marcos Area Recovery Team (SMART) divers were then called to the scene and the boy's body was recovered by them shortly after 5 p.m. at a a depth of approximately 85 feet, stated both Montgomery and a release from Comal County Sheriff's Office.

"It happened at a place at Comal Park where we've had several drownings before," Montgomery said. "Beneath the beach and an island offshore, there's a shallow, thin rocky shelf that has a sudden deep drop-off. The drowning victim was with his brother. Both fell off the shelf, and both couldn't swim. One man tried to rescue both boys but was able to save only one. Several hundred people witnessed the incident from the shore."

As for the baseball bat incident, the victim, listed as critical at the scene, Montgomery said, was flown by an AirLife helicopter to Brackenridge Hospital in Austin, Montgomery said. He was one of four who got into a fight with a companion Sunday afternoon. The latter grabbed a bat and hit the victim with it, he said.

On two separate occasions on Sunday and Monday, three AirLife rescue helicopers had been dispatched at approximately the same time, Montgomery said. EMS crews were so busy, he added, that on several occasions ambulances were unable to be sent to an emergency scene, only the Fire/EMS department's fire engines.

"The engines are equipped with the same trained people and supplies as EMS ambulances," Montgomery explained. "But they're unable to transport people."

In one instance late Monday night, for instance, emergency crews were called to a residence in Canyon City to resuscitate a woman who was undergoing a cardiac arrest, Montgomery said. A fire crew was on that scene until the ambulance arrived.

"Most of our calls on the Fourth of July were to fires that were either related to (illegal) fireworks or illegal burning, like coals negligently being dumped on the ground, things like that," said Montgomery.

"On a typical 2-day weekend, we'll only get six to eight calls a day total on average, but that more than tripled over this holiday weekend," he said. "We weren't this busy at all on the Fourth of July last year."

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