No foul play suspected in recent Lady Bird Lake deaths, police say
AUSTIN, Texas - Austin police continue to investigate exactly how Jonathan Honey died, after his body was found in Lady Bird Lake near Rainey Street on Saturday, April 1.
Honey is the second person whose body was found under similar circumstances in the past two months, and one of several cases like this in recent years. But late Monday, Austin police released a statement, stressing detectives do not suspect foul play in any of these cases.
"I was like ‘oh my god. We were just literally there,’" said Christina Plaza, who’s visiting Austin from Boston.
People who hang out on Rainey Street were shocked to hear about the discovery Saturday afternoon of the body of Jonathan Honey, after the 33-year-old was last seen at a taco truck on Rainey Street around 2 a.m. Friday, March 31. Austin police are still investigating how he died.
"I'm thinking maybe somebody who drank too much and fell. But if it's somebody really doing harm, it's concerning," said Marisa de la Paz, who is also visiting Austin.
FOX 7 Austin reached out to a representative for Honey’s family. We were told they are unable to comment because of the ongoing investigation.
In recent years, at least five men in their 20s or 30s have been found in the lake under similar circumstances:
- 2015: Julio Santos, 22
- 2018: Martin Gutierrez, 25
- 2019: Christian Pugh, 21 (found alive)
- February 2023: Jason John, 30
- April 2023: Jonathan Honey, 33
The family of Jason John, whose body was found in the lake in February, believes these incidents could be connected, even though the autopsy report states Jason John’s death was an accidental drowning.
"We definitely don't agree with that," said Jason John’s mother Elsie John. "Jason was 30. Jonathan Honey was 33. 2 in the morning. Rainey Street. So there were some similarities in the case."
"It is very, very concerning," said SafeHorns president Joell McNew.
McNew says she’s worried about University of Texas students who go out on Rainey Street.
"I know that there have been some comments on social media that it's just alcohol related," said McNew. "And I believe it’s definitely more than that."
Austin-based criminal defense attorney Sam Bassett says while Austin police says they’ve not found evidence of a crime so far, detectives are likely looking into these incidents collectively.
"Well, I think the first thing you start with is the cause of death. Was it accidental or does it appear to be something that was done intentionally? And then secondly, is there any commonality if these are acts that appear to be intentional, is there any similar method or her motive that could be at play here?" said Bassett.
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For the families of those who’ve died, they say they want answers, and change, from the city.
"The city needs to do something. Ignoring is not an option anymore. It never was," said Mitchell Gutierrez, Martin Gutierrez’s brother.
"We don't know how many Jasons, how many Martins, and how many Jonathans are going to be losing their lives again. And this is not acceptable," said Elsie John.
Since Jason John’s death, a handful of temporary lights were installed, and fences were put up, along with signs warning of the risks of drowning. However, the fencing is low and there are large gaps between stretches of fence.
The Trail Conservancy is working on a larger, more permanent solution to increase lighting and beef up safety measures in the area, but the project is not expected to be completed until the end of 2023.
In a statement late Monday, Austin police said:
"The Austin Police Department is aware of speculations regarding the recent drownings in Lady Bird Lake. Although these cases are still under investigation and evidence is being analyzed, at this time, there is no evidence in any of these cases to support allegations of foul play. While each incident has occurred at the lake, the circumstances, exact locations, and demographics surrounding these cases vary. Our investigators approach every case with an open mind and objectively examine all available evidence.
We work closely with the Travis County Medical Examiner's Office, which conducts a parallel investigation into all deaths. The Medical Examiner performs autopsies in each of these types of death investigations. The results of these autopsies have not revealed any trauma to the bodies nor indication of foul play.
One common theme of the drownings in Austin this year is the combination of alcohol and easy access to Lady Bird Lake, which has numerous access points. Many of the access points can be challenging to see at night. The parks in which most of these drownings have occurred are park areas that close at 10:00 pm and occur after the park closes. We advise the public to follow the rules on park closures."