BY ASHLEY D. THOMAS
“He was my best friend.”
Those were the first words Bethune-Cookman University student Devonte “Squirrel” Lampkin said to the Florida Courier on Wednesday, just days after the drowning death of 22-year-old Damian “Dame” Parks, who was a fellow student at the Daytona Beach-based historically Black university.
Parks, from Miami, was swimming in the ocean with friends when the tragedy happened early Sunday, April 19, near Sun Splash Park in Daytona.
Lampkin was there when his friend slipped away. Parks’ body was found ashore on Monday morning.
“We met about three years ago and since then I’ve been with him virtually every day for the last three years. I was with him during the time that he passed, and I made the call,” he told the Florida Courier through tears.
Lampkin said he made the 9-1-1 call about 3 a.m., citing that Parks was hit by a big wave. He admitted that they had been drinking alcohol, but said the death was not hazing-related as rumored.
According to Lampkin, the students were members of a dance group and a step team, but not in a fraternity as earlier reported.
However, despite Lampkin’s denials, Daytona’s beach safety officials told another media outlet that the university’s campus police department is investigating whether hazing was somehow related to Parks’ death.
A university statement didn’t confirm or deny that the possibility of hazing is being investigated.
Coast Guard responds
A United States Coast Guard report states that its Jacksonville Command Center was notified of the accident at 3 a.m. Sunday.
A 45-foot boat was launched from Ponce de Leon Inlet at 3:27 a.m. to search for Parks, followed by a crew aboard a MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter from Clearwater at 4:32 a.m.
Jet skis also were used during morning hours to search for Parks and shoreline searches were conducted throughout the night.
Parks’ body was found on the beach shore Monday morning, nearly 24 hours after he was reported missing.
The Coast Guard report states that Parks and another friend entered the water to swim. Soon after, Parks struggled and yelled for help. His friend reported clutching Parks by the hand, then losing his grip.
‘Night of fun’
Lampkin and Parks participated in the dance group Reconstruktion and a step team, the Melodik Stepping Experience. According to Lampkin, the friends at the beach were all members of the step team.
“Me and Dame, we had planned to go to the beach since Thursday,” Lampkin continued. “It was just a time to let go and have some fun. We had shows and modeling that we had being doing. That night was just supposed to be a night of fun and enjoy a night of company.
“We were there at about 10 o’clock that night. We were at the dock for a while and then about 3 o’clock in the morning, we decided to go out to the beach….Dame and about four of my friends decided to actually get in the water. The waves were high, the tide was high.
“We were drinking so there was alcohol involved unfortunately, which was one of the reasons why I decided not to get in the water but to watch them just to make sure everything was OK. But being that it was so late at night, it made it really hard to see… and it was just a tragedy,” he said as he choked back tears.
“We just watched over him when he went out to sea. And then after the first wave hit him, he went under.”
No hazing involved
Lampkin says the tragedy was not a result of hazing.
“It just so happened that we decided to have some time with our friends that we stepped with…We are a step team and they like to insinuate that was hazing. It was truly just a tragic accident to be completely honest with you,” he explained.
Parks joined the step team in February and participated in the group’s first show in March.
“He was a light to us all,” Lampkin continued. “He was extremely talented. Not only that, but he had such a great spirit.”
Students, faculty and family tearfully gathered on B-CU’s campus Tuesday to mourn Parks’ death.
“This is a sad moment for our university. We never want to hear of students losing their lives. I grieve not only as the president of B-CU, but more importantly as a parent. My condolences go out to Damian’s mother and his family,” President Edison O. Jackson said in a statement.
The university has offered grief counseling on campus. A prayer circle led by Jackson was held on the school’s campus Monday morning. Hundreds of students gathered at an area called “the Quad” – some with posters, others with balloons.
Teddy bears and other stuffed animals were laid near a tree planted in his honor.
Another son lost
Parks’ mother, Carolyn Parks, told WESH-TV 2 this week that her son wasn’t a great swimmer and she’s not sure why he decided to swim in the ocean.
Mrs. Parks also said this is the second time she has lost a son, stating that another son, 16, died six months ago in Miami.
Homegoing services for Parks will take place at 10 a.m. Saturday, May 2, at Jordan Grove Missionary Baptist Church, 5946 NW 12th Ave, Miami. Royal Funeral Services of Miami Gardens is handling funeral arrangements.