Complaints show concerns over safety of Jacksonville retention ponds

‘It doesn’t take nothing but a second’

Police pulled the body of 4-year-old Gavin Douyon out of a neighborhood retention pond on the Northside of Jacksonville on Monday night.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Police pulled the body of 4-year-old Gavin Douyon out of a neighborhood retention pond on the Northside of Jacksonville on Monday night. Municipal records, Department of Children and Families reports and previous news reports show a pattern of children drowning in the wastewater structures across Florida.

A month before Douyon died, another boy with autism named Mohamad Nour, 5, drowned in a retention pond in Jacksonville. In 2019, 2-year-old Franklin Parker was found dead in a private retention pond in Baker County. A 2018 DCF report found a 7-year-old drowned in a retention pond in Clay County. A 5-year-old drowned in one in 2015.

There are 240 retention ponds in Duval County that are maintained by the city of Jacksonville. Even more are privately owned, nestled in neighborhoods. The city says not all of its retention ponds have fencing -- and it is not required to install them. Complaints sent to the city since January show neighbors complained even retention ponds with fencing around them are broken -- and still accessible to small children.

MORE: I-TEAM: Retention pond complaints to city include damaged gates, missing locks

JoAnn Brown’s home sits a few yards away from a large city retention pond in Moncrief. Within eyeshot of her driveway, filled with children’s toys and bikes, is a large hole in the fencing. The metal fence had been peeled back to create an entryway to the pond. A complaint was sent into the city about an opening in the gate on March 23.

“I have a 2-year-old, godkids that are 1, 2 and 3. They are out here playing, and they have kicked the ball out there and go get it, but we can catch them before they do,” said Brown. “Sometimes you can turn your back, and my grandkid could run out there, could kick a ball out there and thinking it’s safe to go get that ball, but it’s not. It doesn’t take nothing but a second.”

On the Eastside of Jacksonville, a neighbor complained in March to the city about the fence around a deep stormwater drain in the middle of a neighborhood. She told the city the “gate was unlocked, and a little girl keep[s] playing in the area.”

Pictures of the drain on June 2 show the gate is locked but has a gap big enough for a person to walk through. People in the neighborhood showed a photo of two little children hanging from the slope in the drain over the water.

“You could get in it. It won’t keep you out,” said neighbor Ruth Ward. “The gate is kind of wobbly. I think it needs to be fixed so it can’t just be pushed open, accessible for kids to get into it.”

News4Jax sent photos of the issues with the gates around the two retention ponds to the city. As of publication, News4Jax had not yet heard whether the issues are being resolved.

RELATED: Jacksonville City Councilman Reggie Gaffney mulls requiring fences for ponds in new communities after child’s death

Jacksonville City Councilwomen Ju’Coby Pittman and LeAnna Cumber have worked for more than a year to establish campaigns educating people on the dangers of retention ponds. Pittman now says it is time for new laws better regulating their use.

“We need to make sure everyone is on board with us. There are regulations with retention ponds. We need to make there is an annual inspection that whoever the management company or the HOA that they are familiar with what’s going on and not wait until an accident or something tragic happens.”

About the Author:

Kelly Wiley, an award-winning investigative reporter, joined the News4Jax I-Team in June 2019.