Fourteen-year-old Nicholas Kissner, after a growth spurt that blasted him up to 5’11” this year, was overjoyed at the thought that he may soon be taller than his father, John, who stood at 6’1”.
John, with his large, daunting frame, slumped in his chair at his family-owned business, Kissner Co., an animal feed store on the corner of U.S. 190 and Rougon Rd., in Port Allen Monday afternoon. Wiping his oft wet-with-tears cheek, John gloomed, knowing that his son would never grow taller than he.
Nicholas Kissner died by drowning Wednesday, July 30, at new Denham Springs water park, Cajun Lagoon, a five-acre water park and artificial beach that opened in May.
“I had given him swimming lessons when he was young so he could swim – trying to protect him from this,” said John, adding that even though his son had basic swimming skills, he wasn’t a strong swimmer.
John dropped his son off at local church on July 30 around 9:15 a.m., as the church’s youth group was going to Cajun Lagoon for a day of fun.
He didn’t know that would be the last time he’d see his son alive.
Now, after the drowning, John is putting blame directly on Cajun Lagoon’s ownership, saying that the water park is unsafe.
“If the park had been run like all the other water parks (I’ve been to), this wouldn’t have happened,” John Kissner said.
John claims that of the five lifeguards that were supposed to be on watch at the time, only three were near the beach area at the time of his son’s death. He alleges that of the lifeguards on duty, only one of them knew how to perform CPR.
He also said that he believed the water was dyed so thickly, visibility beyond a couple of feet made it impossible for anyone, including lifeguards, to see Nicholas, who he believed was on the lake’s bottom for about two hours before searching lifeguards found him.
“I know that they did not know he was missing until his group that he was with called him to come eat lunch,” John said. “I got there within 25 minutes of when they found him, and he was already stiff. So he had been underwater and, I guess, dead for a couple of hours.”
John said that he thinks the owners of the water park were haphazard in the construction of the park and “cut corners” everywhere they could, “and killed my son.”
“I assumed that this new place was going to be as good as (other water parks) that I had been, and I didn’t go look. I never dreamed it was going to be a nightmare like it was,” John said, adding that since his son’s death, he has heard many others’ bad experiences and concerns with the safety of the park.
On July 26, on the Cajun Lagoon Facebook page, on concerned customer questioned the park’s murky waters, saying it could be dangerous.
“We went this week and had a great time. However, I have big concerns about the water. It definitely has some kind of dye in it - the sand was blue around the edge of the water and you could see "blue" splashing up. The biggest concern is that you cannot see your hands or your feet 4 inches under water,” wrote Traci Vedros on July 26 – four days before the drowning occurred. “We were there yesterday - and you could not see 4 inches below the water surface.”
Amid the questioning, the operator of the Cajun Lagoon Facebook page explained that the park’s water is “treated (with) chlorine and dye called "crystal clear." Chlorine in a pool is clear, however (without) a concrete bottom the water will never be clear as a pool. The brand if chlorine is RE-FRESH,” the person explained.
The page’s operator went on to say that the water had about three to four feet of clarity, however, sometimes when the sand gets stirred up it does make the water cloudy for a short time.
“We are aware that we have thousands of people swimming in our water and we are EXTREMELY careful that ANYTHING we put in the water is approved for swimming ponds,” Cajun Lagoon LLC wrote.
The West Side Journal contacted Jason Ray, co-owner of Cajun Lagoon, Monday afternoon, but he refused comment saying that attorneys suggested he and the other owners not speak with media about the incident.
The Kissners, however, are very vocal, and are speaking out against the water park owners.
“I’m Russian, and in Russia, this happens, and the owner completely is responsible for this,” said Elena Kissner, Nicholas’s mother. “This is a death. I don’t know American law, but I’m telling you, it’s very serious. If a person died in somebody’s business… owners are responsible for this. That’s it.”
Elena added that the water park’s owners were warned that the park was potentially a hazard.
“People told him it was dangerous – nothing fixed,” she said. “Next day, we lost our son.”
John said that he believes criminal charges should be filed against the owners due to their alleged negligence in the matters of safety in the park.
“I am really mad at the park, and I blame it all on them the way this worked,” he said.
As angered as he is at the situation, he said that he is extremely touched with how his friends, customers, and total strangers from the community and surrounding areas have reached out to he and his wife during a very difficult time.
“There’s nothing anyone can do to bring my son back. But to know that people do care is just major,” said John. “I can’t believe I have this many people in this area that care as much as they do. I just wish I didn’t have to find out this way.”
Nicholas, who would have been entering the ninth grade and was being home schooled, was John’s youngest son of three, but the only son born to Elena.
“If you added up everything that you ever thought you wanted in a son, I had it.
I just miss my son so much. He was everything you ever dreamed of,” John said. “He totally loved me and I totally love him. He and I had a connection that 95% of the population dreams about.”