published Tuesday, June 18th, 2013

Alabama officials investigate four drownings

Four people have died in two separate apparent drownings investigated over the last few days at sites just a few miles apart in Northeast Alabama.

Authorities still have not identified three bodies found by a fisherman last week inside a submerged pickup truck in Weiss Lake near Centre, Ala.

Cherokee County Sheriff Jeff Shaver said the bodies of two men and a woman are undergoing examinations in what is being investigated as a fatal traffic accident.

Meanwhile, officials in DeKalb County have released the name of a teen who drowned Saturday in the Little River in the Little River Canyon National Preserve along the Cherokee-DeKalb county line.

Little River Canyon park Superintendent Gail Bishop said 19-year-old Rome, Ga., resident Ricardo Perez was swimming with several friends, all about the same age, at Martha's Falls on the Little River on Saturday evening. Most visitors to the area had gone home by 7:50 p.m. CDT when Perez and some of the others were swimming near the falls, Bishop said.

"There were about eight people there," Bishop said of ranger David Walker's report.

Perez was among four young men from Northwest Georgia who were jumping from low cliffs at Martha's Falls, an area also known as "the Hippy Hole," when Perez jumped and began to struggle about two-thirds of the way across the river, she said. Two women who saw what happened called authorities.

"His body was found not far from where he went down," Bishop said. "He was found in nine feet of water."

Rescuers from Cherokee and DeKalb counties helped retrieve Perez's body, she said. Officials found no evidence of drug or alcohol use.

At Weiss Lake, Sheriff Shaver said the three bodies found in the pickup were probably in the water for some time, though he was unsure yet how long.

The truck, a white late-model pickup, was in about six feet of still water next to Alabama Highway 31, he said.

Rescue crews "worked hard to recover the bodies and some evidence," Shaver said.

The accident investigation is being conducted by the Alabama Highway Patrol, he said.

Contact staff writer Ben Benton at bbenton@times freepress.com or 423-757-6569.

about Ben Benton...

Ben Benton is a news reporter at the Chattanooga Times Free Press. He covers Southeast Tennessee and previously covered North Georgia education. Ben has worked at the Times Free Press since November 2005, first covering Bledsoe and Sequatchie counties and later adding Marion, Grundy and other counties in the northern and western edges of the region to his coverage. He was born and raised in Cleveland, Tenn., a graduate of Bradley Central High School. Benton ...

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