Cummins Falls remains inaccessible following the June 10 drowning of 2-year-old Steven Pierce. Although the park itself is not closed, the access trails leading to the falls (the park’s main attraction) have not reopened. The following message is posted on the state park’s website:
“The gorge and the trail to the gorge at Cummins Falls is CLOSED. This means there is no access to the water. The overlook is open. We will remove this alert when the gorge reopens.”
The park is expected to implement a water monitoring system that will alert visitors if a flash flood develops. According to the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, the necessary equipment was supposed to arrive in early August. However, TDEC communications director Eric Ward says that the “timeline [for installing the warning system] is to be established.” Aside from the falls’ closure, no significant safety measures have been implemented at the park.
Toddler’s drowning marks seventh death at Cummins Falls in past decade
The most recent Cummins Falls tragedy occurred in early June, when a sudden flash flood swept two-year-old Steven Pierce out of his father’s arms. Steven and his parents were evacuating the scene of the falls, along with 64 other visitors, but did not receive adequate warning time to make it clear of the water. The toddler’s body was recovered the next day.
The boy’s parents, Curtis and Hannah Pierce, filed a wrongful death suit against TDEC for the death of their son. The complaint–filed by the wrongful death attorneys at David Randolph Smith & Associates–alleges that the boy’s death was directly caused by the state’s failure to implement a much-needed warning system at the falls.
Steven Pierce’s drowning follows the 2017 deaths of two women at Cummins Falls. Similarly to Steven and his family, one woman was engulfed by a flash flood while attempting to evacuate falls. The other woman, a bystander, rushed to save her. Both were drowned. At least four other individuals have met tragic deaths at the falls since 2009, including three teen boys.
Much-needed safety measures long ignored
Each Cummings Falls drowning resulted in a public demand for greater safety measures at the falls. After the 2017 flash flood, many demanded that the state install a water-level monitoring and warning system, which would give visitors plenty of time to escape in the event of a flood. Although TDEC made several statements suggesting that it would implement such a system, it never did.
The park did install a life-jacket stand near the falls, allowing visitors to equip themselves with the devices shortly before entering the water. However, the Pierces maintain that visitors are required to return the jackets before exiting the falls area. The Pierces had already returned their jackets, but had not yet cleared the water, when the flood swept Steven away. In their complaint, the Pierces argue that the life-jackets were ineffective in protecting them from the flood. A water monitoring system, however, could have been the difference between life and death for their son.
Besides the water monitoring system, several other potential safety measures are under discussion. One suggestion is the construction of a raised platform near the gorge, giving visitors a nearby safe area in the event of a sudden flood. Another suggestion involves requiring all visitors to sign a waiver at the park office before descending into the gorge. Other ideas include instituting a minimum age requirement, additional weather stations, or mandatory safety videos.
If you or a loved one are seeking representation in a wrongful death suit, call the Nashville wrongful death attorneys at David Randolph Smith & Associates.