Tragedy struck the Western Carolina University community over the Fourth of July holiday weekend when a newly enrolled student drowned at a local swimming hole.
Shortly after 2 p.m. on July 5, the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office was dispatched to a possible drowning in the Tuckasegee River near the East La Port Recreation Park in Cullowhee. According to Jackson County Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Chip Hall, 18-year-old Timothy Michael Adams was pulled from the river by friends.
When the Sheriff’s Office arrived, Cullowhee Fire Department, MedWest EMS, and the Jackson County Rescue Squad were already at the scene providing aid to Adams. The victim was transported to Med West Hospital where he was pronounced dead a short time later.
Adams was from Wake Forest, N.C., and had just enrolled at WCU on July 2, three days before his death. Adams, who was a standout high school athlete had declared Sports Management as his major at WCU.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of Timothy Adams during this very sad time,” said Bill Studenc, director of WCU’s Communications and Public Relations Office. “The loss of a life at such a young age, as this young man was just beginning his journey toward independence and adulthood, is especially heartbreaking and tragic.”
The Jackson County Sheriff’s Department is currently investigating the incident. According to Deputy Hall, the waters of the Tuckasegee were normal on the day of the incident with no increase in river depth or swiftness. “We are currently at the stage in our investigation where we wait for reports like the toxicology and pathology reports,” said Hall. “Although we are waiting for those reports, at this time, we do not have any reason to believe that alcohol or anything played a factor in this incident.”
Hall said that although this was the second incident this summer involving a student at WCU being injured in the waters of Western North Carolina, these types of incidents are not common. About a month ago, a WCU student was injured on the southern end of Jackson County at a waterfall.
“This is just a really unfortunate circumstance and something we never want to see happen,” said Hall.
The Western Carolina University community gathered Monday night for a candlelight memorial service. The service started at Adams’ dorm and proceeded to the water fountain in the middle of campus.
Adams’ mother, Susan Adams, set up a gofundme.com page to help raise funds for Adams’ funeral expenses. “This fund is set up to raise funds to help with funeral costs for Timothy,” Susan wrote on the page. “Tim was taken from us too soon in a sudden, unfortunate accident in Cullowhee, N.C., where he was attending Western Carolina's Summer ASP Program. Tim was excited to step outside his comfort zone, and experience something new. Your donation will help with funeral expenses, and a donation will be made to the YMCA at Forest Pines, where Tim worked. Thank you and God bless you!”
Since the page was created on July 6, more than $13,000 has been raised out of the $15,000 goal.
According to Hall, WCU officials are taking steps to ensure that incoming students understand the dangers associated with the waters and environment of the mountains.