Etowah River drowning victim was Paulding County student

A trip from Paulding County to the Etowah River to go swimming took a tragic turn Tuesday when a 17-year-old high school student became swept up in the currents, was pulled under the water and drowned, officials said.

The victim was identified as Sergio Cadenas of Dallas, Ga., Bartow County EMS spokesman Brad Cothran said Wednesday.

Cothran said Cadenas and two friends were swimming in the Etowah River Tuesday afternoon when they decided to swim out to several large, concrete pillars in the middle of the waterway that hold up raised train tracks. They were in Cartersville near Old River Road and Highway 293.

The pillars have metals rungs on the side; the group was hoping to climb up them and eventually jump off into the river, the friends said.

“Halfway out, [Cadenas] started struggling and went under,” Cothran said. “The current had already moved him some.”

Cadenas came up once, struggling for air — before being swept under once again, Cothran said.

“He did not resurface,” he said.

A call for a possible drowning came into emergency services at around 1:30 p.m., and the search for the teen’s body lasted more than two hours. Search boats with sonar detection descended onto the river as the Georgia Department of Natural Resources deployed their helicopter search units, a spokesman said.

By 3:45, Cadenas’ body was recovered, about 300 yards from where he went under.

The Paulding County School District said in a statement that they were “deeply saddened” to hear of Cadenas’ death.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends during this difficult time,” the district said.

Cadenas’ family members could not be reached for comment Wednesday. They did not return voicemail messages left at phone numbers listed under their names.

The drowning was the fourth this year in Bartow County. One was in nearby Lake Allatoona, and another two were in personal pools, Cothran said.

It was at least the 23rd drowning this year in the whole state, according to state statistics, although DNR spokesman Mark McKinnon said that figure may be even higher due to possible underreporting by local communities.

No foul play is suspected in Cadenas’ death; rather, Cothran said, the strong currents in the river are most likely to blame.

The area where the teens were swimming is slowly becoming an increasingly popular place for people to swim, Cothran said.

“Usually it’s more of a fishing area,” he said.

It is not illegal to swim in the river. The Etowah River has long been a popular spot for swimming, canoeing and kayaking, Cothran said.