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Questions linger in drowning death of man on Lake Lanier at Margaritaville
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The beach and lake at Margaritaville at Lanier Islands on Thursday, May 23, 2019. - photo by Austin Steele

Details are still scarce about how a Stone Mountain man drowned about 30 yards off shore while swimming on Lake Lanier at Margaritaville over Memorial Day weekend.

Jose Camarillo, 19, was found Sunday, May 29, in the swimming area of the resort by a Hall County Fire Services dive team after Georgia Department of Natural Resources game wardens used side-scan sonar to find him. 

Christie Grice, a spokeswoman with Hall County Fire Services, said Camarillo’s friends searched the area for about 10 minutes before calling 911. 

“He was last seen out swimming,” she said. “That was the last time they had seen him. They had looked around for him, could not find him, so then at that time, one of the friends or family members that was with him called 911.”

Initially, authorities thought a child might have drowned, according to Grice. 

“There was a delay just due to the language barrier,” she said. “(The call) came in as a missing child but ended up being a 20-year-old male.” 

Camarillo’s age was initially reported as 20 years old, but Hall County Deputy Coroner Kevin Wetzel said his birth date shows May 31, 2002, meaning he would have been 19 years old. 

A toxicology report will determine if Camarillo was drinking.  

“There is a possibility that he was drinking, but I don't know that for a fact,” said Hall County Deputy Coroner Kevin Wetzel. “That’s what some of his friends had told the investigators.” 

Autopsy results typically take eight to 12 weeks, he said.  

The Hall County Sheriff’s Office said they did not know whether Camarillo had been drinking. Richard Pickering, a diver for a private company called Lake Lanier Recovery Divers, said he was a few docks away, at the Port of Indecision, when he got a call from a Margaritaville staff member about a potential drowning. 

Buckey Perry, vice president of Margaritaville, declined to comment. 

“The sad thing is that this was literally right off the beach,” Pickering said. He said the drowning occurred about 30 yards off shore, and a few hundred people were present on the beach. 

“People don’t realize this, but (it’s) swim at your own risk,” he said. “They don't have lifeguards there posted for swimming.” 

“I was there in two minutes,” he said. “I always have my boat loaded with my (diving) gear. … I yelled it to my dock mates and said I need help. They jumped in with me and we hauled ass over there.” 

The Department of Natural Resources and Hall County Fire Services were on scene when Pickering arrived. He stood by, then he noticed bubbles dancing frantically on the surface of the water and nearing the shore. 

As a diver with more than 40 years of experience, Pickering said he realized that one of the two divers in the water had recovered a body. He jumped in and helped the diver bring the body on shore. Authorities dispersed the crowd, surrounded Camarillo with umbrellas and began performing CPR. 

It is not clear whether he died at the scene or after being transported to the hospital.