Friends mourn Smithfield dad who died while swimming in Cape Fear River

Johnston County News

SMITHFIELD, N.C. (WNCN) — Authorities Saturday identified a Smithfield man who died while swimming in the Cape Fear River in Harnett County Friday afternoon. 

Officials said Reginald Donnell Ragston, 32, was swimming in a stretch of the river near Erwin. 

Ragston began to struggle while swimming and vanished in the river around 5:30 p.m., according to officials.

His body was found Friday around 7:35 p.m. near the N.C. 217 bridge over the Cape Fear River, authorities said.

Reginald Donnell Ragston with one of his children. Courtesy: Megan Matthews

A few of Ragston’s friends — who called him Reggie — told CBS 17 they’re dealing with the pain of him no longer being here.

“It’s just like a big part of me left,” Nick Delisle said. “You could be in the worst mood, and when Reggie walked into the room, the room just lit up.”

While his friendship with Ragston lasted three and a half years, for Nick Delisle, it feels like a lifetime. 

“I said ‘I love you too, big bro’,” Delisle said. “That’s the last time I talked to him.” 

But this weekend, the man Delisle looked to as a big brother is gone.

“I basically stayed up all last night crying, just thinking about him,” Delisle said. “I don’t want to accept that he’s gone. That was my best friend. He was the one I could call and talk to at 3 a.m. when nobody would pick up.”

“You can’t just go visit him, and just make everything go away,” said Ragston’s friend, Kimberly Bonk. “It’s just a huge toll.”

Delisle and others described Ragston as a loving friend, son and father, always there for anybody. 

“He was always carrying on, joking, laughing,” Ragston’s friend Tina Stanley said. “Without a doubt, I know he’s up above watching us and taking care of his kids.”

Reginald Donnell Ragston with his children. Courtesy: Megan Matthews

But Delisle believes he’ll one day see his best friend again, as he and others keep his memories alive. 

“I know he’s not hurting no more, I know he’s not struggling no more,” Delisle said. “No matter what, I’m always going to look up to him as my big brother, because he was there for me when I needed him.”

Erwin Police Chief Jonathan Johnson said the river is dangerous with many rocks and strong currents. He added it is not a safe place to swim.

Ricky Blackmon, Chief of Erwin Fire Rescue, said his crews average about three or four rescues a year in the stretch of the river near the bridge.

Several other agencies also helped during the incident, including Harnett County Emergency Management, Harnett County EMS, Dunn Emergency Services, Lillington Fire Department and Buies Creek Fire and Rescue.

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