Man drowns under downtown Macon bridge

A 22-year-old Peach County man drowned Sunday afternoon while wading under the Otis Redding Bridge in downtown Macon.

Bibb County Coroner Leon Jones identified the deceased as Michael Thomas Hill of Tribble Road in unincorporated Peach County. Jones said Hill’s most recent residence was the Salvation Army in Macon.

“About 3 p.m. this afternoon three gentlemen were wading in the water,” Jones told reporters at the scene Sunday. “One of the gentlemen went under the water and was unable to swim.”

Jones said the death appeared to be accidental but is still under investigation.

Hill entered the Ocmulgee River from the riverbank steps at Gateway Park, located at the corner of Riverside Drive and Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. After he disappeared under the water, witnesses called for help. Rescue workers arrived with a motorboat and found his body under the bridge about an hour and a half later. A small crowd gathered to watch the investigation from behind a barrier of yellow police tape, which was wrapped around the park’s well-known statue of soul singer Otis Redding.

Ronald DeWitt, 60, said he tried to rescue Hill. DeWitt, a Navy veteran trained in lifesaving, said he often swims in the Ocmulgee and was just coming out of the water when Hill and two other men were going in.

DeWitt didn’t know Hill, but had seen him swimming in the river a week earlier.

“They came up to me and asked me where was the deepest part of the water,” DeWitt said. “I told them there around the post,” he said, indicating one of the large concrete pillars that support the bridge. “I told them to be careful, because if they weren’t careful they’d get sucked in.”

Dewitt said he went up to higher ground to dry off, and “somebody up on the bridge said, ‘Somebody call 911, somebody’s drowning!’ ”

“I went down to try to get him and I got caught up in a riptide and I pulled myself out,” he said. “I saw the bubbles and I thought I still had a chance to get him. I went down again and I didn’t feel anything.”

Jewell Simmons, 41, also had come to the park Sunday afternoon to cool off in the river. She saw Hill enter the river and stayed until she saw his body lifted out in a bag.

“This was my first time in that water and the last,” she said.