Family of drowned teen wants more safeguards at Clayton County International Park

Jean-Claude and Miyoshi Bourget, who live near Lake Spivey in Clayton County, want the county or officials at the park, built to host volleyball events during the 1996 Olympics, to do something before another family goes through the heartbreak they experienced last October.

Their son was on his way to a homeowners association meeting with other neighborhood kids when he went into the lake to retrieve a basketball and was unable to make it back to shore. It took three days for divers to retrieve his body. The lake had to be drained before the teenager was found entangled in hydrilla, a dense vegetation often found in lakes.

Last week, Jean-Claude Bourget stood wearing his deceased son's  shoes on the banks of the lake, where ducks swam peacefully. A wreath, placed in the lake when it was drained, now sits partly submerged in water covered with hydrilla.

Bourget said he and his family also would like to see more safeguards at the lake such as life preserver rings, ropes, signs spelling out the dangers of the lake and perhaps even a small rescue boat. When his son drowned, it was 30 minutes before divers entered the water because they were trying to assess the dangers before going  in. There are "‘no swimming" signs posted around the lake, but they do not fully convey the danger that lurks, the Bourgets said.

"The lake is extremely deceptive. The vegetation in the lake grows 15 to 20 feet tall,"  Miyoshi Bourget said. "We've termed it a monster in that lake that people don't know about. The vegetation is what impeded them from finding Henri's body."

The family praises  rescuers' efforts at the time of the drowning, but they say tougher safety measures by the county are needed.

"I don't believe they have a plan of action," Jean-Claude Bourget said. "They need to put something in place to prevent another family from going through what we went through."

County Commission Chairman Eldrin Bell insists providing safeguards at the lake is a "high priority."  However, he said he has been inundated with county business that now falls to him since chief of staff Alex Cohilas retired in December.

The park, also known as the Beach, falls under the jurisdiction of Clayton's parks and recreation department. The director,  Detrick Stanford, said the park recently spent about $1,200 to add more lake grass carp, a fish that feeds on vegetation. The department also is consulting with other parks to see what kinds of measures they're taking to avoid similar tragedies.

"We're going to look at what would be most prudent," Stanford said. "I'm sure we will institute other safeguards but at this time I'm not sure when that will be."

"We're not using the lake at all now," Bell said. "Before we bring it back we want to have a plan. I want to get the recommendation of the rest of the board to either fence it or do something to keep children away."

When a plan is formulated, Bell said, the Bourget family will be "involved in the discussions and solutions for what we need to do."

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.