Memorial Day Ends With Drowning On East Texas Lake

Cindy Ledesma says Juan was like a cousin to her. He came to the U.S. from Mexico last year, and was living in her neighborhood in Longview. She was on the shore today while he was swimming just yards away.

"The next thing you know, he was gone," said Cindy.

Lynn Sjostrand's children were in the water and saw Juan struggling. They came running to the shore to tell her.  That's when someone called the park for help.

"It seemed like an eternity. 10 minutes, 20 minutes, 30 minutes, waiting for someone to go in and get that boy. Finally, almost 40 minutes later, a scuba diver comes in and goes under and brings him out. I had to do CPR on him," said Sjostrand.

Bill Smart is the park superintendent.  He says they had someone in the water within ten minutes, but pulled him out because he was getting exhausted.

"I don't want to lose an employee to a drowning. We didn't have people in  proper gear. I'm not going to send people in the water that aren't properly geared, because I don't want to have another recovery," said Smart.

Chris Green is the Smith County Game Warden with Texas Parks and Wildlife.

He said, "It's not that these guys didn't rush down here. It's that it's a big park. It's got a lot of winding roads. There are a lot of people on bicycles. Lot of kids riding, a lot of kids walking, and you just don't speed through the park and run over someone trying to get to a scene like this."

Juan's body was recovered at 5:40. He was pronounced dead at the scene. His family in total disbelief.

Cindy said, "He was always smiling. He was a good friend. He was a hard worker."

The park says another reason it took some time to get out on the water is because they are understaffed. There were only 3 peace officers on hand today with more than 1,000 lakegoers in the park. There were also no lifeguards on duty because like most public lakes, Tyler State Park is "Swim At Your Own Risk."

Lindsay Wilcox/Reporting: