Chief Investigative Reporter

Jeremy Finley is the chief investigator for News4 Investigates. His reporting has resulted in criminal convictions, legislative hearings before the U.S. Congress, and the payout of more than a million dollars to scam victims.

NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) - Photographs provided to News4 Investigates of 2-year-old Steven Pierce show the boy was wearing a life jacket the day he drowned at Cummins State Park.

Park rangers told news media after Pierce’s drowning that he was not wearing a life jacket when he drowned.

Steven Pierce in lifejacket

Steven Pierce (Photo submitted)

David Smith, the family’s attorney, said the photos not only show the boy did wear a state-provided life jacket, but the family was required to leave it at the basin of the falls before they were evacuated.

Steven Pierce in lifejacket

Steven Pierce (Photo submitted)

Smith said Curtis Pierce, Steven’s father, said they were instructed to leave the life jacket, so when park rangers blew a whistle indicating the falls had to be evacuated, his son was not wearing a life jacket as they attempted to cross the water.

“When it's time to leave the falls, you have to give back the life jacket. But you give back the life jacket at the basin of the falls,” Smith said. “He remembers his son being swept away by the force of the water and then he was swept. For four hours, he was climbing up the base of a tree, and it was hours before he was rescued and didn't know where his son was.”

Smith also said the family is from Eddyville, KY, and was unaware of the previous drownings in 2017 at the park.

“They had never been there before. They had no knowledge that anybody had died there or that there was a danger there,” Smith said.

News4 Investigates reached out to the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation asking if there was a firm policy that life jackets couldn’t be worn out of the falls, but a spokesman responded that because of the pending litigation, they couldn’t comment.

In reviewing the Cummins Falls’ website, it only states that life jackets are available, but that the hike to the gorge is not appropriate for small children.

Nowhere on the website does it state if there is a policy about life jackets remaining at the falls.

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