By Kathi Bliss
It happened again this weekend.
On Saturday afternoon, a call came in to local authorities about a missing person on the river. On the heels of the tragic death of Wayne Foston last weekend, naturally, our emergency services (mostly volunteers) descended on the banks of the San Marcos River in an attempt to find a 23-year-old soldier from Ft. Hood who strayed from his group and was not seen for several hours.
Service partners were called in from San Marcos, Hays and Guadalupe Counties, and the City of Austin. Helicopters and boats were deployed to help search the area. Divers came in to search the water.
Some 18 hours after the initial call came in, the young man was found – sources tell me that, in his intoxicated state, he passed out on his tube and floated past the camp. He then made the decision to get out of the river, somewhere between Martindale and Fentress, and go to sleep on the bank. He hitchhiked back to camp on Sunday morning.
Upon receiving the call about this situation on Sunday morning, naturally, I was terrified that the situation would not have a happy ending. I was scared that we would have another drowning, and that our emergency services would be pulling another dead body out of the river.
Frankly, I breathed a sigh of relief when I realized it was, “just another drunk.”
After that initial relief, I got mad. “Mad” doesn’t quite cut it, actually. I was furious. I was enraged that, once again, our county’s already-stretched-thin emergency services had to spend their time and their talents searching for someone that made a series of really stupid decisions. I was incensed that our volunteer fire departments, who operate on a shoestring on the limited resources they receive from the county and the donations they receive from their supporters, had to spend those limited resources mitigating the potential disaster caused by the abject lack of responsibility being encouraged by the so-called “recreation” on the San Marcos River.
I could almost begin to accept the waste, if the resources were being spent on people who actually live here – on people who pay taxes here and help to support the organizations that are going out and looking for them. They aren’t. Weekend after weekend, Caldwell County is descended upon by some 15,000 people who contribute nothing but trash, noise and aggravation tion to property owners on the river, and who are a constant drain on our law enforcement, our medical staff and our volunteer emergency services.
Caldwell County’s Office of Emergency Management has stated publicly that these problems could be alleviated if the tubing camps would take responsibility for ensuring their patrons enjoy recreation sensibly. The Caldwell County Sheriff has consistently asked for more staff, in an effort to adequately patrol the river for illegal activities. Those requests have been repeatedly denied.
It’s time. As much as I appreciate the need for expenditures on the Caldwell County Justice Center, I learned this week that the project is now nearly $1 million over its initial budget. I’m hard-pressed to figure out how centralizing our legal process and record keeping is going to help keep us from dragging drunks out of the river. The new furniture will be nice, and the mosaic on the floor is going to be pretty. But those things will do nothing to help the property owners who find intoxicated college students defecating, fornicating or stealing stuff in their back yards. They will do nothing to hold the owners of the river camps’ feet to the fire on enforcing laws and encouraging safety among their patrons. And they certainly won’t help keep us from pulling another dead body out of the water.
It is budget time. It is also election time. And it is time for us to stand up, as a community, and tell our County Judge and County Commissioners what we think is really important. It’s time for us to stand up for our neighbors, our law enforcement and our emergency services, if we think that is important.
I know what I think. How about you?