Man drowned trying to save dog at McKinney Falls

Austin police Monday identified the man who drowned with his dog Sunday at McKinney Falls State Park. 26-year-old Samuel Westerfeld lived in Central Austin and was at the park with his girlfriend.

Last April Westerfeld tweeted this photo of his dog Blue Bell.

To get to where the drowning happened at McKinney Falls State Park investigators said Westerfeld ignored and crossed several barricades.

"You know right now there's really not a reason for anybody to be down here, said Park Superintendent Tommy Cude.

Access to the main falls was closed off after floods in May and October. The damage includes torn apart roads,  a smashed picnic area and a sign pulled out of the ground despite its thick concrete base. The sign warns visitors about the dangerous water conditions at the falls.

"Some of our rules may seem a little over reaching but there are reasons, if there is a barricade it’s not safe it’s there for a reason, we are trying to protect our visitors, and users,” said Cude.

It’s unclear if Westerfeld knew the risks when he jumped into the water Sunday. He was trying to rescue his dog which had slipped off the limestone ledge. The animal reportedly was while walking off leash, which is against park rules.

"Like I said there is a hydraulic that is created at the base of the falls, water goes in and it tumbles. It’s like swimming in a washing machine basically, so you get caught in that, additionally it creates a lot of air and bubbles in the water and tis like trying to swim in a diving pool, you just don’t get any purchase, there’s nothing you can get a hold of, it’s all bubbles,” said Paul Alvarez with Austin/Travis Co EMS.

Westerfeld's body along with his dog were found by divers pinned under debris in about 10 to 12 feet of water.

There are several locations across Central Texas with water features like this one. What happened here can happen there, so how do you survive it.

"Your best opportunity to save yourself is going to be in not trying to swim straight up, because that water is pushing down, and creating that Hydro function and pushing you down and you are never going to be able to fight it coming straight back up, your best chance is swimming to the side … go with the current, swim outside and come up out of that pressure,” said Cude.

Extra security patrols are now being down in the closed area.  A new emergency call box is also being installed onto this metal pole. The system would have already been in place when Westerfeld died except the recent floods destroyed the work that had already been done.

The lower falls recreation area is open. The repair work upstream is expected to be completed by the end of next month.

Westerfeld worked as Network Security Analyst with the University of Texas starting back in 2011.

By: Marcus Officer

January 3, 2015

A nice day in the park quickly took a turn for the worse for a 26-year old man and his two-year old dog.

FOX 7 was on the scene Sunday afternoon after following the story.