Graduating senior drowns in Diversion Canal

Wade McIntyre
Jarran Keller

A 19-year-old graduating senior from St. Amant High School drowned Wednesday afternoon on the Diversion Canal while on an outing with a group of friends and students from the school.

The body of Jarran Keller was recovered by a diver from the Gonzales Fire Department Dive Rescue Team around 9:13 p.m. at the Diversion Canal weir east of Hwy. 22.

Authorities from the Ascension and Livingston parish sheriff’s offices, and department of Wildlife and Fisheries dredged the area prior to sending the diving team in the water to search.

Several students saw the young man go down for the last time about 20 yards away from shore on the Bayou Terrace side of the canal opposite a popular swimming hole area that kids call the “swinging tree.”

Megan Poore, 17, also a St. Amant senior, said she was about five yards ahead of Keller as they swam across the canal when she heard him yell.

Poore said she saw Keller “flailing his arms” and at first thought he was joking.

She swam back to him, but when she reached him he wrapped his legs around her and put his arms around her and they went under water.

Poore said she came back up but Keller did not.

“I went back down about four times,” she said. “I was screaming his name under water. He was my best friend.”

Gary Dowdy from St. Amant was on a nearby pier.  “I seen him drowning,” he said.

Dowdy dove off the pier and swam about 25 or 30 feet before Poore went under water.

“They were swimming across the river,” he said.

Blake Anderson of Galvez was with Dowdy on the pier.

“We were fixing a motor with a busted gas line,” he said. “We heard everyone yelling in the group from St. Amant.”

Brandon Schexnayder, 19, of Gonzales said he was the first in the water from the Bayou Terrace side of the canal. “He went under one time and that was it.”

Jesse Ducote, 18, of Prairieville, held the boat while his friends ran to help the drowning youth, and watched as the drowning unfolded. “Megan was in the water,” he said. “She kept on trying to go down and get him.”

Divers found Keller’s body under a large tree at the bottom of the canal, according to St. Amant Volunteer Fire Department Chief James LeBlanc.

“My hat is off to the Gonzales Fire Department diving team,” he said. “They were underwater an hour and a half or more.”

Keller was a member of the St. Amant High track team.

“He was a good kid,” Megan Poore’s father Chris said at the scene. “This is a really bad thing to happen.”

“He had so many plans,” Megan Poore said. “He wanted to be well known, but he didn’t care about money.”

On a pier Wednesday afternoon about 150 yards from where the dredging operation was still underway, a group of Poore’s friends sat in a semi-circle, waiting for his body to be found.

The youths described him as a small fellow, about 5’ 8” tall and weighing around 150 pounds.

They wondered what had happened, what caused him to be unable to complete the swim about 120 yards across Diversion Canal.

“He was the best one of us,” one of the young men said.

A dredging operation on the Diversion Canal for the body of Jarran Keller Wednesday proceeds in front of a swimming hole popular with students. Divers recovered the St. Amant High graduating senior’s body around 9:13 p.m.