TWRA investigates Memorial Day Rhea County woman's drowning on Watts Bar Lake

A 19-year-old Rhea County woman's body was recovered from Watts Bar Lake on Monday night, one of two drownings in Tennessee over the Memorial Day weekend holiday.

Rescuers started searching the waters for Madison "Maddie" Taylor once they got the call around 6:30 p.m. Monday, Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency spokesperson Mime Barnes said in a news release.

Taylor entered the water from a boat to swim and did not resurface, Barnes said. Taylor was a standout athlete at Rhea County High School, playing on the school's basketball team and other sports.

Officers from TWRA, Rhea County Sheriff's Office, Rhea County rescue squad, Meigs County rescue squad and dive teams from Bradley County and Hamilton County searched in 40 to 50 feet of water above the Watts Bar Dam, she said.

Taylor's body was located using a remote-operated vehicle after the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office underwater recovery team located a point of interest on the lake bottom with sonar equipment towed behind a vessel used in the search. Taylor's body was transported to the Rhea County Medical Examiner's Office, authorities said.

Taylor's brother, Drake McCain Taylor, posted about the loss on social media.

"My beautiful baby sister! Bubba misses you so much my heart can't take it. Y'all please just pray for our family right now and respect our privacy. GOD BLESS!" he posted in the hours after his sister's body was recovered. Drake McCain Taylor is known for his run on the national talent show, "American Idol," in 2019.

The Rhea County woman's death was one of two boating-related fatalities in the state over the holiday weekend.

(READ MORE: It's National Safe Boating Week. Here's how you can boat safely)

Another collision on Memorial Day involving a pontoon boat and a personal watercraft claimed one life on South Holston Lake in Sullivan County, according to TWRA.

Around 6 p.m. CDT Monday, a pontoon boat with three occupants on board collided with a personal watercraft carrying two passengers just upstream of the State Route 421 bridge access area and Laurel Marina, officials said. The male operator and the female passenger of the personal watercraft were transported by boat back to an access area where they were met by emergency services. The male victim was airlifted to Johnson City Medical Center with serious injuries and the female passenger was pronounced dead at Bristol Medical Center, officials said.

Both occupants of the personal watercraft were wearing personal flotation devices, and no one on board the pontoon boat was injured. The victim's identity in that crash was not released pending notification of family, officials said.

The two holiday weekend fatalities mark the 11th and 12th deaths on Tennessee waters this year, according to TWRA.

Each of the incidents is still under investigation.

TWRA urges people on the water to take care when on the move.


Take a boating safety course: Gain valuable knowledge and on-water experience in a boating safety course with many options for novice to experienced boaters.Check equipment: Schedule a free vessel safety check with local U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary or U.S. Power Squadrons to make sure all essential equipment is present, working and in good condition.Make a float plan: Always let someone on shore know the trip itinerary, including operator and passenger information, boat type and registration, and communication equipment on board.Wear a life jacket: Make sure everyone wears a life jacket – every time. A stowed life jacket is no use in an emergency.Use an engine cut-off device: An engine cut-off device, or engine cut-off switch, is a proven safety device to stop the boat’s engine should the operator unexpectedly fall overboard.Watch the weather: Always check the forecast before departing on the water and frequently during the excursion.Know what’s always going on around you at all times: Nearly a quarter of all reported boating accidents last year were caused by operator inattention or improper lookout.Know where you’re going and travel at safe speeds: Be familiar with the area, local boating speed zones and always travel at a safe speed.Never boat under the influence: A BUI is involved in one-third of all recreational boating fatalities. Always designate a sober skipper.Keep in touch: Have more than one communication device that works when wet. VHF radios, emergency locator beacons, satellite phones and cell phones can all be important devices in an emergency.Source: Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency

Boaters appear to be aware of higher gas costs but they're still plentiful, officials said.

"With fuel prices higher than in the past, we saw a number of boats anchored out in coves or rafted up together," TWRA Boating Investigator Capt. Matt Majors said Tuesday in a news release.

(READ MORE: Whitwell, Tennessee, man's body recovered from Nickajack Lake after boating accident)

"The amount of just running up and down the lake seemed to be less, although the popular lakes and rivers were still very busy with many calls for service for wildlife officers," Majors said. "Our wildlife officers did see a number of designated operators but also made many arrests for boating under the influence around the state."

Two other incidents resulted in serious injuries, and there was one involving property damage, officials said. TWRA officers also made 25 boating under the influence arrests over the weekend, TWRA spokesperson Emily Buck said Tuesday in an email. Buck works at the agency's office in Nashville.

"We want to continue to stress that the single most important action one can take to prevent drowning while boating is to wear a life jacket," TWRA Boating Education Coordinator Betsy Woods said in an email.

Elsewhere on the water

Other holiday weekend boating-related fatalities were reported outside the Chattanooga region in Alabama and Georgia, according to The Associated Press.

In Cullman County, Alabama, resident Frankie D. Cruce, 60, drowned as he attempted to retrieve a canopy that fell from his boat on Smith Lake between Birmingham and Huntsville, according to a news release issued Tuesday by the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency. The incident was reported at 1:40 p.m. Monday, and officials midday Tuesday were still looking for Cruce's body, agency spokesperson Jeremy Burkett said Tuesday in the release.

In Savannah, Georgia, a two-boat crash Saturday left five dead, and searchers recovered the bodies of three missing boaters Sunday from the Wilmington River, according to AP. One of the surviving boaters, Mark Christopher Stegall, 45, was charged with boating under the influence.

Contact Ben Benton at or 423-757-6569. Follow him on Twitter @BenBenton.