Law enforcement, grieving friends urge you to stay safe on the water

HUNTSVILLE, Ala.- Following another recovery effort on the Tennessee River this year, this time based at Ditto Landing, first responders say they want to see change in how people see the river's waters.

"Our river is very dangerous, it has a lot of debris in it, it has a lot of currents and undercurrents that are unsafe, and people are not aware just how dangerous it is to be out here," explained Morgan County Sheriff Ana Franklin.

Crews will continue to search for a missing 31-year-old man they fear has drowned, at first light on Thursday. It's a sad situation for a family, said Franklin, but also for first responders who also hold out hope that somehow the man survived the currents.

"It's a different kind of situation because it's waiting. It's waiting for us to bring that body out, and to come and tell them that yes, we have found them. It's a terrible situation for parents," she said. Franklin is frustrated people are not heeding warnings to wear life jackets and not to drink while operating boats. "It's not getting better," she commented. "There's never a summer that we go and think, 'We're going to make it this summer without a death.' We know come Memorial Day, we're going to be doing drownings all summer... And we're going to have to notify a loved one that their life is forever changed."

She urges you to take her warning that the water is dangerous.

So does Blair Addie, who knows what it's like to grieve someone who was taken too soon by the Tennessee River. His friend Alonda Veniszee, drowned in June. He said sometimes it's hard to believe she's gone, and he still finds himself texting her old phone.

Alonda Veniszee Photo: Blair Addie

Alonda Veniszee
Photo: Blair Addie

"I still text her," he said, "just to say 'I love you. I hope you are ok in Heaven. Have fun.' Stuff like that."

He said he was with her on the kayaking trip when her life ended. "It was a regular day," he said. "When [deputies] said she went under and she didn't resurface, that's when everything changed for me. I thought she knew how to swim," he commented. "My mind wasn't in the right place when they told me that. My mind was blank. I was thinking, 'Are you sure you're talking about the right person?'" he said.

"Water is a dangerous thing. Now, I realize that."

His warning for you, is one he hopes you'll keep with you. He gives it for Alonda, and from his heart: "Just think about it. Don't do anything crazy when you're on the water," he said. "You don't want that to happen to anybody close to you. It's not a good feeling."