Stillhouse Lake

Law enforcement officials searched for 3 days for the body of a man who drowned in Stillhouse Hollow Lake on Sunday, near Dana Peak Park.

An official said the body of a man who drowned in Stillhouse Hollow Lake has been found.

Rohel Ramirez Gonzalez, 42, of Killeen, was pronounced dead by Justice of the Peace G.W. Ivey at 11:45 a.m.

“Today, at approximately 10:45 a.m., while on patrol, a Bell County deputy checked the bank area of Union Grove Park on Stillhouse Lake,” said Major T.J. Cruz, assistant chief deputy with the Bell County Sheriff’s Department, in a news release. “The body of this past Sunday’s drowning victim was located and recovered by the Bell County Sheriff’s Department and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.”

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers also assisted in the recovery effort.

Cruz said next of kin were notified and no autopsy was ordered.

Law enforcement officials used technology to search for the man who drowned near Dana Peak Park.

Bryan Dulock, game warden with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, on Monday told the Herald that a man was boating with family and friends Sunday morning when he was separated from the boat.

The victim was unable to stay above the water and drowned. The game warden's office received a call about a possible drowning around noon.

Officials used side-scan sonar to search an area about a quarter-mile square, he said. The technology can be useful but is inexact because the signature of a body could be the same as a tree at the bottom of the lake, which is 35-50 feet deep in the search zone and cold at the bottom, he said.

He said thick hydrilla and vegetation hindered search efforts.

A terrifying day

It was not an ordinary day of fishing for a father and son out on the water Sunday. Clayton Shepherd of Belton and his father, Steve Shepherd, ended up rescuing two people, a woman and a man, during the incident, and saw the victim go under the water and not resurface.

“We were about to leave but decided to hit one more fishing spot,” Clayton Shepherd said. “My dad looked over and said, ‘Hey, there’s three heads in the water.’”

Steve Shepherd drove his boat toward the people, who were waving and screaming for help, Clayton Shepherd said.

“We pulled the woman in the boat first; she was screaming,” Shepherd said. They then pulled a man into their boat but were unable to reach the third person, Gonzalez.

“The last thing my dad saw was his head coming out of the water, and then he went back under, and then just his hand came up motioning us to come toward him,” Shepherd said.

He said there was a language barrier because the woman spoke a dialect of Spanish unfamiliar to Shepherd, but he was able to ascertain it was the woman’s fiancé who drowned and that they had planned to get married next year.

Shepherd, who was an EMT, said the woman’s lips were blue and the man appeared to be in shock and had aspirated water, nearly drowning.

It was an accident that could happen to anyone.

The group had jumped in to go swimming and wind blew their boat out of swimming distance.

No one in the water was wearing a life jacket, he said.

”I’ve been a fisherman my whole life and I know that life jackets save lives,” he said. “Swimming in the lake is different that swimming in a pool: you can’t touch the bottom, or even see the bottom, and there are lots of hidden obstructions.”

Shepherd also pointed out that even on a 100-degree day, the water is much cooler than the body and hypothermia can set in, which is why the woman’s lips were blue.

“They just jumped in for a minute to swim, but that’s all it takes,” he said.

Shepherd said the incident brought back memories from his time as a first responder.

“It’s not the ones you save, it’s the ones you couldn’t save that you remember,” he said. “My dad has never been through anything like this before, and we’ve both been going over in our heads what we could have done differently. But we know it was out of our hands but we wish we could have gotten all three people out. Our hearts are broken for the family.”

Emily Hilley-Sierzchula is reporter for the Killeen Daily Herald. Reach her at emilys@kdhnews.com

Herald reporter

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.