For Adrian DeLeon, the safety of his 4-year-old son was more important than his own life.
“He did what any parent would have done – sacrifice their life for their kid,” said the man’s uncle, JJ DeLeon, a 37-year-old Edna resident.
Adrian, a 22-year-old Edna resident, drowned Friday while kayaking with his son at a friend’s pond in Jackson County.
JJ said Adrian was casting a fishing line from the kayak with his son when he lost balance, causing both to fall into the water when the boat capsized unexpectedly.
After placing his son on the overturned kayak, Adrian yelled for help to a group of about 10 friends and family who were watching from the bank, JJ said.
They rescued the man’s son, but Adrian, despite being a strong swimmer, slipped beneath the surface before he could be reached.
“We think he must have been panicked,” JJ said. “He was more worried about his son.”
Neither father nor son was wearing a life jacket because the likelihood of drowning seemed so remote, he said.
“I guess we just got so comfortable, it just didn’t cross our minds,” he said.
Ethan Carrasco, an American Red Cross-certified lifeguard and lifeguard instructor in Victoria, said succumbing to panic can be deadly in natural bodies of water.
“The type of water you are jumping into makes a huge difference,” said Carrasco.
Additionally, a strong swimmer can easily become fatigued when trying to save a less able swimmer, endangering both, he said.
That’s why lifeguards prefer to attempt rescues with the aid of flotation devices. But Adrian had none that day except for the capsized kayak.
Jackson County Sheriff Andy Louderback said his office is not pursuing an investigation into the death, and his office has found no reason to question witnesses who said the death was an unfortunate and tragic accident.
JJ said Louderback’s understanding of the death was accurate.
“It was a freak accident,” JJ said.
At the time of the capsizing, JJ said, he was at a nearby home about half a mile away. He came rushing to the home after receiving a phone call from his sister, Adrian’s mother.
JJ said he could tell by the tone of her voice that something terrible had happened.
When he arrived at the pond, about 10 minutes had passed, but JJ still held out hope that he would find his nephew alive.
After stripping his clothes, JJ dove into the murky water and began desperately searching for Adrian, whose brothers were also diving into the pond to search for him.
“Ten minutes turned to 20. Twenty turned to 30,” said JJ.
Days after Adrian’s death, JJ struggled to describe his feelings as the evening sky turned dark and the realization set in that his nephew had been submerged too long to still be alive.
Although EMTs and game wardens who arrived wanted to continue the search in the light the next morning, JJ and other family members were unwilling to give up.
“I just wanted to find my nephew. I just wanted to bring him home alive or deceased,” JJ said. “He was not staying in that pond.”
About an hour and a half after the disappearance, Adrian’s father found his son underneath the pond’s surface. It was too late.
“These couple of days are going to be the hardest,” JJ said.
Adrian, a Victoria native who worked as a construction worker in the oil fields, leaves behind two young sons, a wife and a large extended family.
He was also an outdoorsman who loved fishing, “playing in the mud” and “revving engines.”
JJ described his nephew as a kindhearted, outgoing man whose happiness was contagious.
“He had a smile like nobody had,” said JJ, adding he was extremely close with his nephew and often spent time with him.
“He was a little brother to me,” he said.
As of Tuesday, Adrian’s family was staying strong as they struggled to process his untimely death, said JJ, recalling something his nephew’s 4-year-old son said the day after.
“’My dad is in heaven, looking down on me,’” said JJ, quoting the child. “I lost it when he said that to me.”