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Investigation into deadly High Falls accident continues

High Falls rescue / WGXA

FORSYTH, Ga. -- High Falls State Park in Monroe County is a scenic place to visit, but the difficult terrain can cause issues for visitors.

On Tuesday, a 12-year-old boy died after he and his older brother were swept over a waterfall while playing in the water in a restricted area of the park.

Matthew Perry, director of Monroe County Emergency Services, said the agency gets about a dozen calls per year from High Falls State Park about injuries or minor emergencies. But he said the death of the boy is by no means a routine thing at the park.

"When the water levels get down we spend a little more time out here, but it's broken ankles and busted knees. It's someone who has fallen and hit their head on the rocks, and that kind of stuff is routine for us," he said.

Perry said people will climb the fences and go to wade in the water or walk on the rocks, but he said the warning signs and fences are up for a reason--to keep visitors safe.

Kim Hatcher with Georgia State Parks said there are signs throughout the park and near the waterfall.

"And there is signage, warning signage, to stay out of the waterfall, and the dangers of the river and the waterfall," she said.

Perry said that the last resort to keep people from going into restricted areas would be to build a wall, but that would impede visitors' ability to enjoy the beauty of the falls. Additionally, Hatcher said that the death of the 12-year-old boy is still under investigation and that if any changes are made, it will be a result of the findings.

"As in any incident that happens at a state park, we evaluate our safety measures and see if any changes need to be made," Hatcher said.

Perry said that they make sure to have staff members at the park on holiday weekends when there are more people walking around it.

But he said that calls like the one that went out on Tuesday can be distressing for responding officers. However, he said that it is their job to focus on the dangerous and difficult job they have first, then focus on feelings later.

"We try to bring calm to chaos," he said. "That everything we go to, we're going to try to be the calming factor in all of those."

Perry said that Tuesday's call was particularly distressing because first responders had to make the difficult decision to focus on the rescue of the young boy's 17-year-old brother, who was clinging to rocks in a dangerous part of the river, rather than the recovery of the 12-year-old's body.

He said that all first responders cope in different ways and that situations like this are never easy, but that it is their job to act as the rock for victims of disasters and those caught in dangerous situations.

Perry encouraged everyone visiting High Falls State Park to read all posted signs and follow park rules.

"You know remember that if for no other reason, people like us have to come out and get you," he said.

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