Community speaks after 22-year-old killed in watercraft crash on High Rock Lake

DAVIDSON COUNTY, N.C. -- There was a wave of emotions in Buddle Creek on Sunday as boats hit the water and fisherman filled the docks.

"Especially in a place where I call home down here," said Tommy Leonard who enjoys his Sunday afternoon near the water.

Just 24 hours ago, 22-year-old Taylor Hepler fell off a personal watercraft near High Rock Lake and never resurfaced.

Wildlife officials say Hepler was not wearing his life jacket, which is required when anyone is operating or on a personal watercraft.

Investigators say he was a passenger and the first to fall in the water in Buddle Creek. A short time later is when the driver went in the water but survived.

Word of this tragedy is spreading quickly in this community.

Leonard has spent most of his life enjoying the waters here, but this latest tragedy worries him now that he's a father.

"15-year-old, 13-year-old, 8-year-old, newborn, I'm really concerned because they always come down here," Leonard said.

First responders rushed to the scene around 8:30 p.m. Saturday. As they arrived at a home on Periwinkle Lane, they received multiple calls.

One of them detailed how Hepler was still underneath the water.

Ashley O'Hare with the North Carolina Wildlife Resource Commission was on the of the first people at the scene.

"As soon as we receive calls like this we shift into gear quickly," O'Hare said.

People who live across the cove said they heard screams for help, saw the empty watercraft circling and knew something was wrong.

However, O'Hare says this is a tragedy that could have been prevented and reminds all of us to follow the rules of the water this summer.

"You never know what’s going to happen," she said.

One of Taylor's former high school classmates said he was a great person and touched a lot of hearts.

Wildlife officials say the second person who has not been identified is expected to be ok.