UPDATED: Lafayette drowning 'accidental' - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

UPDATED: Lafayette drowning 'accidental'

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By Callie Starnes

Eyewitness News Reporter

WALKER COUNTY, LAFAYETTE, GA.(WRCB)-- A nighttime swim ended tragically when a Walker County man died last night.

Police say 20-year-old Joseph Alexander Strefling, known as "Alex", and a friend jumped off a culvert into a Lafayette Lake.

Strefling's body was found about an hour later.

Alex Strefling's mother knew he was headed to the Lafayette City Lake. She begged him not go because of the ban on swimming.

The 20-year-old went anyway. His family hopes his death will send a message to teens that no one is invincible.

"We jumped in together. I tried to save him," says friend Robert Cortez.

It was like any other summer night. Robert Cortez, Katie Garrett, and their friend Alex Strefling decided to go for a swim.

"We used to go down there and swim and go fishing. It's just crazy that one of your friends can go in and not come back," says Garrett.

Robert and Alex jumped off a culvert into the water together.

When Robert came back up, Alex was gone. Robert says he dove trying to find his friend, but it was too dark.

"It's just hard watching someone fall in a lake and then not come back up. You don't know what to do, you don't know what to think," says Cortez.

Katie called police and officers arrived. But Alex had already been under water too long.

"Forty-five minutes to an hour so he was in the water a pretty good while," says Lafayette's Director of Public Safety Tommy Freeman.

Alex Strefling was pronounced dead at Hutchinson Medical Center after a boat rescue team found his body.

Freeman says his death is an example of why swimming is prohibited in Lafayette's Lake.

"You know, there's a lot of hazards in that lake. Stumps, sticks, and it's a flowing lake so you don't ever know what's flowing in or out of it," says Freeman.

But the fun far outweighed the risk for these teens who are now without their friend, a young man they say will be remembered fondly.

"He could get a long with anybody. His personality made him fun to be around," says Garrett.

Robert Cortez, who has grown up with Strefling, vows never to swim in the city lake again, and urges other teens to remember his friend.

"I love him to death. One day, I'll meet him up there and we will be in a better place watching over every body we love," says Cortez.

Strefling's body was taken to the crime lab in Atlanta for an autopsy. Just about 30 minutes ago the results were released. Strefling died from accidental drowning and did not show any signs of trauma.

Investigators say there is no indication that Strefling or his two friends were drinking.

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