THE INVESTIGATORS: Woman wants regulations in place after losing husband while tubing

Published: Aug. 27, 2021 at 5:51 PM CDT
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DENHAM SPRINGS, La. (WAFB) - A woman is demanding action to make the Amite River safer months after a family day on the water left her family shattered.

Lisa Hilliard is left asking why her husband of 26 years, Keith, had to die. “When we could not revive my husband, those were the words I spoke,” said Hilliard. “I cannot believe this is my life.. that this is actually happening.”

Keith was larger than life. He was her best friend who saw her through everything. The pair fell in love 31 years ago and Hilliard says they always lived for the next adventure. What was supposed to be a family trip for Father’s Day and a fun day tubing on the water with their boys ended horribly. The pain that ponds in her mind will not go away.

”It’s just hard being without him. It’s hard knowing that my son has to play his final season at LSU without his dad,” said Hilliard. “It’s hard to grasp the concept of when my boys decide to get married, he won’t be there. It’s just so many things that play over and over in my mind.”

Keith was 52 years old. He loved his family and could not be more proud of his son, senior pitcher for LSU baseball Ma’khail Hilliard. Keith was a swimmer and in good health but when his tube flipped over along the Amite River, he was no match for the water. His wife says they were only in the water for about 15 minutes when her life changed forever.

“He swims. We swim. We can swim to save our own lives but where he got caught up, you could not get out of that place,” Hilliard added.

She says they tried for what felt like a lifetime to bring her husband back but nothing they tried worked. Hilliard describes it like a nightmare. She says her husband was there one second and gone in the next after getting swept out of her arms and under the water. She says it was a blurry race against time between pulling him out of the water, calling 911 and delivering CPR.

”The entire thing… the entire thing was like a dream that I could not get out of and that I could not wake myself up from,” Hilliard said. “I’m screaming and I’m tapping him and I’m like ‘Keith, come on Keith’ and I’m tapping him and doing the CPR and we’re blowing and doing everything we could that the 911 operator is telling us to do but to no avail. The lady said you got to do this many presses and this many blows and that many blows but with every blow I hear water… just water like I’m blowing into a bathtub.”

Hilliard says the hardest part was the final words she screamed, begging her husband to come back as she felt him slip away.

”I’m like ‘please Keith, you’ve got to hear us. You’ve got to hear us. You’ve got to come out of this thing. Please don’t leave me like this. Please don’t. Oh my God, please don’t leave us like this’.”

Looking back, she says there’s no way she would ever go back. Hilliard says the whole experience gave her an uneasy feeling before they even got in the water. She says there were no signs warning of the real danger and that she and her family were made to feel comfortable before diving in. She says they were told it was just three feet of water and when they asked for life vests, she claims they were only required for kids under five.

“It wasn’t what was explained to us,” said Hilliard.

Tonight, she wants something done… anything to make sure that this doesn’t happen to another family.

”Clean it up and make it right and put those protocols in place so people are no longer losing their lives and they’re not getting hurt,” said Hilliard.

Dietmar Rietschier, executive director of the Amite River Basin Commission, says the river needs to be made safer. He says the river has been high because of recent rains, but on top of that, he says parts of the waterway must be maintained.

WAFB’s Scottie Hunter asked Rietschier why this this such a problem.

“Well it’s a problem because the river in itself is and rivers in general are dangerous especially the Amite River and the Comite River,” said Rietschier. “They’re very shallow. They have a lot of underbrush under the surface. There has to be programs. There has to be projects. It’s not a silver bullet but we have to look at this holistically and that’s our approach and what we’re trying to do.”

It’s not a new problem. Folks have been plucked from the stretch of water for years but recently, problems on the Amite have increased. More than 30 folks have had to be rescued this summer and two of them have died.

“This is not going to go away and so we need to support and basically what we need is the legislative support to allow us or an agency to do this,” said Rietschier.

While it’s too late for Hilliard’s husband, she believes it will only happen again to some other family unless something changes.

“I would never wish this on anybody in my life,” she added. “I do the best I can to ensure my kids that it’s going to be okay but is it? Is it ever going to be okay? I don’t know. I do not have that answer but I would hope that they would change the way they’re doing things.”

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