A 17-year-old Central High School student working as a lifeguard at the Buccaneer Bay water park at Weeki Wachee Spring remained paralyzed from the neck down Friday after a freak Fourth of July accident on a water slide. Chuck Hackney, a football and wrestling standout who will be a senior at Central this fall, slid down one of the park's water slides during a routine training drill Wednesday morning, "hit the water and didn't come up," said Tom Price, the attraction's general manager.
Hackney went down the slide feet first and landed in about 4 feet of water, Price said.
"It was really a freak accident."
He said the other lifeguards at the park immediately got Hackney out of the water and put him on a backboard.
The accident happened just before the park's 10 a.m. opening.
Price said park officials investigated the incident and discussed it with the other lifeguards but did not close that particular slide.
None of the customers were aware of what had happened, Price said.
Hackney was taken by helicopter to Bayfront Medical Center in St. Petersburg, where he was in serious condition Friday evening in the hospital's neuro-intensive care unit.
"He feels in his upper body from the shoulders up. He can lift his right arm a little and can feel sensation in the elbow. But other than that, that's all the real feeling," said his father, Glenn Hackney on Thursday.
Glenn Hackney said no vertebrae were broken but his son's spinal column had severe bruises. He said doctors would not be able to determine the full extent of the injuries untiltoday, when swelling from the bruises is expected to have subsided.
"Everybody's just praying," he said.
A standout wrestler for Central High, Hackney competed in the 160-pound weight division. He also played linebacker, fullback and kicker on the varsity football team.
He had been working at Buccaneer Bay for several months.
"He started just before school on a part-time basis, then moved to full time. He loves it. He's very athletic," the elder Hackney said.
Lt. Jim Hinkle of the Northwest Hernando County Fire Protection District was called to the scene.
He said Hackney "looked fine" but complained that he was numb from the neck down.
"He said he was going down the slide and somehow got twisted around and hit his head on the bottom.
"It was a sandy bottom and not too deep," Hinkle said.
The water park is next to the underwater theater where the Weeki Wachee mermaid show is performed.