Safety measures to increase in Rainey Street area after recent drownings, city says

Visitors to Rainey Street and nearby portions of the Ann and Roy Butler Hike and Bike Trail will see increased safety measures in the area this weekend, according to a release from the City of Austin on Friday, April 7.

This announcement comes almost a week after a body was found in Lady Bird Lake near Rainey Street, the second in two months. No foul play is suspected in both cases.

Last weekend, the body of 33-year-old Jonathan Honey was found in Lady Bird Lake.

Jason John was found there less than two months before that. His family spoke to FOX 7 last week after Honey's body was found, renewing the push for more safety measures

"There should be lights, there should be cameras, there should be blue lights where you can push for help. There should be some police officers driving around," Elsie John's Jason's mother, said Sunday.

Jason's loved ones say something should've been done years ago after the family of Martin Guiterrez advocated for change after his death. 

"I think when this happened to Martin Gutierrez back in 2018, Mitchell [Guiterrez, his brother] really advocated for lights and cameras and nothing was done about it. And now it's been four or five years later," Nisha Parakadavil, Jason's friend, said Sunday.

"If that was done at that time, which means Jason was still with us when we asked them to build things, if the city had done a little bit more fast on things, then Jonathan Honey, he was supposed to be with us," Elsie said Sunday.

Jason's mother says she doesn't agree that her son's death was an accident, which is what his death certificate says.

"You don't need to be an APD or an FBI to figure this out based on all these criteria, the age of the men missing, the timing and the place, you know, it's just common sense. So, it's time for the city to wake up. It's time for the city to do something," she said Sunday.

Meanwhile, people on the trail FOX 7 spoke with Friday say they think the safety measures are a step in the right direction.

"I think the bodies found in the lake are connected," Beck Burger, who lives nearby, said.

"I see a lot of police officers over [on the street] when I feel like they should be in the actual trail area where it feels really scary to walk," Sam Waheed, who lives nearby, said.

"I think patrols more so than anything else, cameras could be visible, but when you're walking around in the dark or if there's not enough lighting and stuff, a camera's not going to save you. It'd be good after the fact, but probably not prevent things," Davey Nelson, who frequents the trail, said. "Just something so there's someone in case automation doesn't work."

"Maybe more guardrails and that kind of thing," Cooper Reed, who lives nearby, said.

The Austin Police Department will be patrolling the area and additional park rangers will also be stationed along the trail.

Austin's Parks and Recreation Department has already installed a fence barrier in the area between the trail and the lake's shoreline, as well as solar lighting in four locations along the trail between the Rainey Street trailhead and the boat launch adjacent to I-35 on East Avenue.

The Rainey Street Trailhead Project, a more permanent infrastructure plan for the area, has been in the works since 2019 with the goals of expanding recreational options and improving amenities.

The release said that the more sharpened focus on safety is a result of the recent deaths in Lady Bird Lake.

"We understand that Rainey Street is a destination for many visitors and Austinites alike, but we urge everyone who visits to take care of themselves and each other," Interim City Manager Jesús Garza said. "As a City, we recognize we need to do more to keep people safe in this area. We are moving quickly to do so and are reaching out to businesses on Rainey Street and other state agencies to partner with us in this crucially important effort."

The Interim City Manager also asked Rainey Street visitors to "drink responsibly and stay safe by staying together."

RELATED: Latest body found in Lady Bird Lake renews safety concerns

According to the release, City Council Member Zohaib Qadri plans to introduce a resolution for City Council approval this month directing the City Manager to provide an interim pedestrian safety plan for the Rainey Street Historic District and provide a status report by April 20.

Qadri also wants to see recommendations on increasing the number of HALO cameras in the area and coordination with the Texas Alcohol and Beverage Commission and Rainey Street bar owners on strategies for curbing over-serving alcohol.

"No night out in our Downtown or on our trail should end in tragedy and trauma," Qadri said. "We must use every tool in our toolbox to ensure our public spaces are safe and secure for everyone. I am grateful that our interim city manager, my colleagues and our community share the same sense of urgency I feel when it comes to protecting our residents and visitors from these truly unfortunate episodes of preventable anguish."