Drowning death is second for family

Friday, August 29, 2008 | 6:44 p.m. CDT; updated 3:11 p.m. CDT, Saturday, August 30, 2008

COLUMBIA - Samantha Dillon is living through a mother's worst nightmare - for the second time.

Her 17-year-old son, Jared Healea, drowned Thursday in Stephens Lake.

"I've done this before," she said Friday at her home on Jefferson Street where family had gathered.

Eleven years ago, she lost her 4-year-old son, Stephen, when he and his cousin Fred Gordon fell in Bear Creek and drowned after she lost sight of them for a moment.

She tried her best to keep that tragedy from repeating itself.

"(Jared) had swimming lessons since the time he was 4 years old," she said.

Columbia Fire Department Capt. Eric Hartman told a Missourian reporter that Jared Healea was pulled from Stephens Lake by firefighters at 5:26 p.m. Thursday. He was roughly 30 feet from the shore when rescuers reached him.

According to Columbia police, he was declared dead after being taken by rescuers to MU Health Care.

Witnesses told fire crews that Jared and several others were jumping off the rail of a walkway in an area where swimming is prohibited. Although they were jumping into 15 feet of water, the experienced swimmer began to have difficulty after a few minutes and sank below the surface.

"He wanted to be a writer," his mother said. "He has had six poems published."

On Friday, there was a stillness about her. The past day's events had left her emotionally drained.

When Stephen died, Jared began writing poetry, and several of his poems can be found on the Web site In his poem, "Gone Forever," he described how much he missed his brother, his regret at being unable to protect him and how alike they were.

Much of Jared's poetry is about his love for his girlfriend, Brittany Gipson, the mother of his 5-month-old son, Konner.

"He was a good kid. Just living life the way he wanted to," his uncle Charley Dillon said after feeding Pepper, Jared's forlorn dog.

Jared didn't have a job but had been doing some landscaping with his mother's boyfriend, his uncle said. He was also looking into buying a car, and perhaps he would have painted it red and orange, his favorite colors.

Although he dropped out of Rock Bridge High School last year, he was seriously considering going back, his mother said. According to a study published May 14 by investigators from the American Cancer Society and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, premature deaths of high school dropouts have increased steadily from 1993 to 2001, with accidents as a major cause.

"He was just being a kid," Charley Dillon said, "living life free and hanging out with his friends."

The city's Parks and Recreation Department has declared that the park will remain open. According to a prepared statement, "the swimming area (is) an unguarded, swim at your own risk beach area."

Lake of the Ozarks State Park, Finger Lakes State Park, and other area parks are also designated "swim-at-your-own-risk" areas, the department noted.

The statement also mentioned that since Stephens Lake Park opened in 2004, the drowning is the first to have occurred.



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Charles Dudley Jr August 29, 2008 | 8:44 p.m.

I still have to ask here as I did on another similar type of posting "Why or were are the volunteer life guards and why have not any volunteer life guards been acquired for this recreational facility?"
Doesn't the American Red Cross offer volunteer life guards to those entities who are in need of them?
The other question is "What will Parks and Recreation do in the future to help prevent this from happening again?

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro August 29, 2008 | 9:08 p.m.

At the very least, I suggest that Parks & Rec place a memorial wreath and plaque on the bridge where these youngsters have been diving off of. Maybe this will serve as a reminder to unsupervised teens to follow the rules that have been displayed for there own safety which are also intended to negate the city's liability. I too think volunteer lifeguards would be a nice touch for the Eagle Scouts or Red Cross or Big Brothers/Sisters, etc.
It saddens me to hear that this is the Mom's second loss.

(Report Comment)
Davis McDonald September 2, 2008 | 12:41 p.m.

I think its very tragic, but we've gotta look at why these kids were where they were to begin with. For most people, watching people do daring things on tv is enough. For others, its not.

In life, there is always an acceptable amount of risk that each person is going to allow. For these kids, the thrill of jumping off the railing was acceptable.

With that, I think lifegaurds are always a good idea but they shouldn't be required. And to respond to Jr.. Parks and Rec can only put up so many signs. As humans, we make our own decisions and deal the the results.


(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr September 2, 2008 | 12:49 p.m.

Well sure Davis McDonald you have a great point but we as citizens of Columbia must not be too complacent in allowing these types of facilities to be built with out the proper supervision if it is actually needed. How would you feel if it was your kid I guess we can ask at this point?

(Report Comment)

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