Livingston man dies in Lake Tombigbee

Sharon Miller
Sharon Miller

By Jena Johnson - email

LAKE TOMBIGBEE, TX (KTRE) - On June 21, 2010, at 12:11 a.m. the Polk County Sheriff's Office received a 911 call to Lake Tombigbee at the Alabama Coushatta Indian Reservation in reference to a missing swimmer.

Upon the Deputies arrival they determined that at approximately 830pm Calvin Wenell Johnson of Livingston, Texas was swimming in the recreation area of the lake when he was observed to swim to the ventilated slide and slide down. His sister advised she told Mr. Johnson that she was leaving and he advised her that he would swim to the west side of the lake and meet her there. She took a shower at the camp facilities, returned to the recreation area and was unable to locate him. Family members searched all around the lake before calling the Tribal Security office. Tribal Security did a quick search of the area and then notified the Sheriff's Office.

The reservation Volunteer Fire Department responded and after consulting with marine search teams with the State of Texas Game Wardens office and the Livingston Volunteer fire department it was decided to wait until daylight to conduct a search of the lake.

At approximately 730am, while waiting for the search teams to arrive the body was discovered next to the ventilated slide. Tribal security, volunteer fire department personnel and Sheriff's Office personnel used a small boat to retrieve the victim from the lake. The victim was positively identified by the family and Tribal Security.

Justice of the Peace Precinct 3 Larry Whitworth was called to the scene and conducted the inquest in which and autopsy was ordered to be performed by the Jefferson County Morgue. The body was transported by Cochran's Funeral Home.

Members of the Alabama Coushatta tribe desperately searched for Johnson.

"Realized maybe he was still under," tribe member Sharon Miller said.

A grieving Miller says it was too late, he drowned in the swimming area. Miller says parts of the lake reach as deep as 30 feet.

"Very deep," Miller said. "The swimming area even is pretty deep you walk in and all of the sudden, it's a big drop."

Johnson's body was discovered 8 hours after he disappeared. It's tradition for the tribe to mourn together, canceling all activities until after the burial. And for immediate family to grieve alone, in silence.

"We're not right there with immediate family, but it affects us," Miller said. "That's one of our family also and a friend."

While the reservation mourns the death of Johnson, the lake that took his life remains closed.

"It's an eery situation to go swimming in a lake to know there's been a death," Miller said.

The lake could re-open this weekend, but Miller doesn't expect it will be filled with tribe members and their families. She says the lake will be a subtle reminder of the good friend they lost.

"Very outgoing," Miller said. "Willing to help in whatever way he could."

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