Neighbors fight for fence around pond where boy drowned

Woman able to get fence around different pond where her sister nearly drowned

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Earlier this month, Jamarion Lee was playing with his 8-year-old brother when he slipped into a retention pond off Nolan Street. His brother ran for help, but by the time rescuers got to him, it was too late.

The city told the News4Jax I-TEAM that there are certain design guidelines it must follow for pond fencing, and the pond where Jamarion drowned meets design specifications that do not require a fence.

"The pond where the tragedy occurred over the weekend was built according to the design specifications and criterion that do not require fencing,” the city said in a statement. “Our Public Works staff has advised that they strongly adhere to guidelines and assess conditions to minimize such risks and threats to public safety. They will conduct a review and examination of the design to reconfirm the slopes."

City officials explained that a fence would be required if the slope around the pond was greater than 1 foot for every 4 feet of distance.

The I-TEAM spoke with the family of a woman who nearly drowned in a different retention pond in 2013. That pond did not have a fence, but now it does because the family said they fought for it to have one.

Shirley Burris and the 4-year-old child she was taking to her day care facility were rescued by two strangers walking by.

"She had one of her daycareday care kids in the back. She was right over here at this traffic light and a lady came and hit her. When the lady hit her at the stop sign, her car ran over in this retention pond and it went completely down,” Burris’ sister Mary Peoples said.

Peoples said one of the rescuers was a man who walked with a cane. But she said in that moment, he threw his cane aside and did what he had to do.

"I tell you, it's just hard to even think about it, because when I think about it. It brings tears when I think that we could have lost her,” Peoples said.

Peoples said after her sister’s accident, they fought for a fence, and got one. But the pond her sister crashed into is owned by the Florida Department of Transportation and the Westside retention pond is owned by the city. The design guidelines are very similar to the city’s and the family said the city should make an exception like FDOT did for them.

But FDOT makes exceptions when the pond is likely to experience "significant exposure" to children or the elderly -- like if they are adjacent to schools or day care facilities.

The I-TEAM discovered Pinedale Elementary School is four streets away from the Westside pond where the boy drowned and neighbors said many of the kids walk right by it to and from school, five days a week. There is also a public park two streets away from that pond.

"I'm hoping they'll (city officials) see the need, and not just sit back and not do anything, come to the forefront and say, ‘Yes we hear you, and not only do we hear you, but we see you. And we need to do something about it, to respond.’ Not to negotiate, because lives you cannot negotiate with,” Peoples said.

There are five ponds within a few blocks of each other on the Westside and none of them are fenced. Neighbors told the I-TEAM they would like to see all of them fenced if possible.

A city official said they are looking into that and will get back to the I-TEAM. As of Tuesday evening, the I-TEAM has not yet received a response. 

Tuesday night, state Sen. Audrey Gibson contacted News4Jax. She said she had already contacted Jacksonville City Councilman Garrett Dennis for help and she will start working Wednesday morning on getting the fence around the pond.

"They will get their fence," Gibson said.