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The entrance to Tiki Tubing along Highway 1019 seen, Saturday, July 31, 2021, in Livingston Parish.

Following two deaths and scores of rescues along the Amite River this summer, the Livingston Parish president plans to discuss safety regulations for tubing at Thursday's council meeting. 

"Let’s put some safety protocols for tubing in place so we have some teeth to stand on when we hear about these tragic events happening," Parish President Layton Ricks told The Advocate. "I do think it’s time, because of the number of things that happened, that we put things in place."

Customers at Tiki Tubing, a popular water sports company in Denham Springs, have risked the turbulent and unpredictable Amite River for years. Local first responders have fielded so many seasonal calls from trapped tubers they have come to expect an uptick in alerts during the summer months. 

Last month, Ricks had said the parish could only do so much because tubers enter the water of their own accord. "You’ve got adults making decisions on whether or not to go Tiki Tubing. I don’t have any ordinance or any regulatory control over something like that,” he said in a July interview. In recent weeks, he had softened his stance and said it could be time to consider an "appropriate" response.

While the cause of so many recent accidents is unclear, some local officials have singled out the river’s high water level after a summer of unprecedented rainfall, and the hidden traps of debris piled beneath the surface. 

"When we have these large rain events, we’re able to tap into our companies to do the cleaning," Ricks said Monday. "But when you have the small rain events that wash stuff into the waterways, you don’t always know how much. They get out of these tubes, they get hung up or snagged."

Lisa Hilliard, whose husband Keith died on Father's Day weekend while tubing the river, said several members of her family suffered injuries from debris the day he drowned. Her son, who swam to his father when he went under, cut his stomach on barbed wire while trying to get his dad to safety, and Lisa scraped her knee on metal piping as she attempted to scale the steep bank. 

"It’s so dangerous," Hilliard said. "You cannot swim in that river. Not even with a tube, because of how the water goes, and with everything in that river, the tube flips over. It doesn’t matter what’s happening: It will flip you over."

She believes closing the river down to swimmers and tubers would prevent more deaths, and hopes both parish leaders and the state Legislature will put push for such an outcome. Tiki Tubing is profiting off the river but taking no accountability when there is an accident, she said. 

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"It’s, 'Collect the money, put them on the river. If they drown, they drown. If they come out, great,'" she said. "It’s horrible, and it’s sad. Put a stop to it now. Too many lives have been lost." 

A representative for Tiki Tubing did not return a request for comment Monday. 

While Ricks does not feel shutting the river down is the right call, he said there are some measures that could be put in place, such as implementing cameras or monitoring systems so people are alerted more quickly if someone is in trouble. 

"Safety-wise there are some things I think we can do," he said. "It won’t bring anybody back, but it maybe will prevent someone in the future from drowning." 

He feels for "everyone that loses someone or gets hurt," but he also recognizes that people have been tubing for decades as a fun, family activity. 

"I think at the same time people are making decisions and have to be somewhat aware that for every individual we lose, there’s 99 others that had a great day," he said. "People making decisions getting in the waterways do bear some responsibility to stay in the tube."

Hilliard said the council needs to help keep people safe on the river. 

"It’s their responsibility to speak up, save their community and save the people visiting their communities," she said. "Some good is going to come out this. We’ll be able to save more lives. The time is now."


Email Jacqueline DeRobertis at jderobertis@theadvocate.com