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CRAGFORD - A fisherman drowned Saturday afternoon near R.L. Harris Dam when he was unable to get out of the river quickly enough when the dam's gates were opened.

Witnesses called 911 at about 5:05 p.m. to report that the man, who had been fly-fishing, standing in the Tallapoosa River almost to the opposite bank, tried to cross back over when the dam's siren sounded. However, he was wearing waders (boots) and kept falling in the swift currents. Two young men attempted to rescue him, but he slipped away from them.

According to Randolph County Sheriff's Office Investigator and Deputy Coroner Donnie Strain, the victim was Brian Lewis Benson, 62, of Auburn. He had parked in the parking lot of the dam.

The search for Benson ended Saturday night, but resumed on Sunday morning. His body was spotted by ALEA (Alabama Law Enforcement Agency) Aviation about three miles down the river.

Others assisted in the search Saturday night and Sunday morning were: ALEA Marine Patrol, Cragford-Corinth Volunteer Fire Department, Clay County Rescue Squad, Randolph County Rescue Squad, Randolph County Emergency Management Agency and Childersburg Rescue Squad.

Dam safety

The tentative operating schedule for R.L. Harris Dam is posted on Alabama Power Company's APC Shorelines website. Currently it's listed at 5 a.m. and 5 p.m., but is subject to change without notice.

The Shorelines website also offers this safety information about areas near the dam:

  1. Swirling water and strong underwater currents at powerhouse intakes.
  2. Strong, unpredictable currents, presence of submerged hazards and low visibility upstream of dam spillways and trash gates.
  3. Turbulent discharges from automatically operated turbines.
  4. Cascading spillway discharges, strong, unpredictable currents below dam and presence of debris passing over or through dam.
  5. Strong upstream currents in surface waters (reverse flow).
  6. Swift, turbulent waters below spillway gates.
  7. Slippery surfaces on shoreline.
  8. Submerged hazards and rapidly rising waters from turbine or spillway discharge.

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