The body of a 2-year-old boy was recovered Monday morning from the Blackburn Fork River at Cummins Falls State Park.
J.R. Tinch, assistant chief ranger with the Tennessee Park Service, said during a press conference Monday morning that the boy and members of his family were attempting to exit the gorge Sunday afternoon as waters in the river were rising to dangerous levels. They were separated and the boy subsequently drowned.
The boy’s body was located Monday around 7am “a couple hundred yards” downstream from the falls, “not very far” from where he was pulled apart from his family the day before, Tinch said.
The boy was identified as 2-year-old Steven Pierce of Eddyville, Ky.
Tinch described the event as a “very tragic” situation. “It has been a tough a day for everyone involved,” he said.
More than 60 people on Sunday had to be aided by regional rescue personnel after they were trapped in the rugged river gorge below Cummins Falls as a result of rising waters and increasingly rapid currents. Fourteen people required “swiftwater or rope evacuation” in order to reach safety.
Unanticipated flash floods have resulted in prior deaths at Cummins Falls, a popular state-managed day-use recreation area near Cookeville in Jackson County. In July 2017 two women died — one of whom was trying to help with rescue efforts to find the other — when stream levels elevated quickly and gained strength after torrential storms dumped heavy rain in a short period of time.
Tinch said officials will conduct a “comprehensive review” of Sunday’s fatal misfortune to determine what exactly happen and if additional safety regulations or protocols are needed in the area.
“It is not necessarily the rain that fell in the park, but the rain that fell in the watershed,” said Tinch. “As all that rain collects in the watershed, it gathers quickly and rapidly, and when it all joins, the more force that comes down, and the larger the water rises.”
Park staff reported that it took just two minutes for the river to rise from safe to hazardous levels.