MARY MEAUX — Local tragedies all too common as waterways remain dangerous

Published 12:40 am Thursday, June 1, 2023

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Tragedy on the waterways is not a new thing for Southeast Texas, and sadly it won’t be something that ever goes away.

Some of the deaths were of older, seasoned mariners, some were of younger folks, and still others were swimmers or fishermen.

There’s no simple answer to any of this; through the years many lives have been lost and families left with heartache.

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In early May came the death of veteran racing boat driver Bobby Riggs, whose boat collided with another during Thunder on the Neches Boat Races.

On Memorial Day, 14-year-old Conner Curtice died after falling overboard in a section of the Neches River. His body was located Tuesday.

Port Neches-Groves Independent School District issued a statement regarding the loss of the teen.

“Our PNGISD family is hurting now for the loss of one of our own and for his family. Counselors will be available at Groves Middle, Port Neches Middle and the high school for students in the coming days — and will be available for as long as they’re needed. Please keep his family and PNGISD family in your thoughts and prayers,” the statement read.

These are just the most recent tragedies that occurred on the water.

In March, 35-year-old Saul Garza Jr. died after being thrown from a boat in Sabine Lake near the Causeway Bridge. Authorities believe the man drove his boat out and was turning around when the boat was hit by a wave, tossing him out. A Good Samaritan on land either saw the man being thrown from the boat or saw the boat going in circles and called authorities.

And in 2021 Halil Cakmaktas fell into the water at Keith Lake — an area known for its strong currents. Rolando Caballero was also fishing that day and he and others tried to toss a rope and long cast net to the drowning man to no avail.

Then Caballero went in the water to try and get him. His wife said he knew the risk but wanted to help the other man. Sadly both men died.

Texas Parks and Wildlife offers many tips on water safety, such as wearing a life jacket. According to its website, 85 percent of fatal boating accident victims who drowned were not wearing a life jacket or personal flotation device.

Users of motorboats and personal watercraft must have an engine cut-off switch to keep boaters safe if they go overboard. TP&W also suggests people learn to swim safely, especially in natural environments and bodies of water.

Other boat safely tips include: always wear a lifejacket, avoid alcohol, be especially careful on personal watercrafts and children younger than 13 must wear a U.S Coast Guard approved PFD (personal floatation device) while underway.

Also, don’t overload your boat, operate at a safe speed, always have a passenger serve as a lookout in addition to the operator and watch for low water areas or submerged objects.

My heart goes out to the victims of the above mentioned tragedies.

Mary Meaux is a news reporter at The Port Arthur News. She can be reached at