Whitewater Express owner defends opening business amid search for young boy

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The popular downtown company “Whitewater Express” received backlash for continuing to allow people on the river amid the search for the young boy who had fallen in the river Sunday evening.

The last two days were business as usual for the Whitewater Express. They rented out lifejackets, helmets and got folks ready to take on the white water course. But one thing that was different was there was a search for a missing 6-year-old Jeremiah Melton in those same waters at the same time.

“Each trip that we put out on the water asked out staff and our guests to be respectful and be quiet as they came through that area. We did that and I think it was the right thing to do,” Dan Gilbert, the owner of Whitewater Express said.

Folks on Facebook were not happy when a facebooker posted about seeing boats and people in the river. The Facebook post reads “Pretty sad that Whitewater is so greedy that they are rafting today while search crews are looking for that little boy. They could of at least shut down until he’s found. His family is out there and they have to see that too. Just a shame.”

Gilbert reached out to News 3 this morning saying he wanted to respond to what people were saying about his business.

He says this is 4th of July week and this happens to be one of the hottest spots for recreation. Unfortunately, it just happened that there was a death in the water.

“The day after the incident, we stayed in touch with the rescue team and fire department throughout the day, just to make sure we were out of the way. We didn’t want to interfere and we did not according to the Fire Chief (Ricky Shores) he said we did a good job. We’ve got our staff, this is their work, this is their livelihood, they want to be out there. What is interesting is that we have people coming from four and five hours away, they’ll come from Jacksonville or Tampa with the primary purpose of going down the river. While they’re here they do other things, they eat and stay at hotels, but their primary purpose is to go down the river. Some groups, youth groups, church groups, may have planned events for six months. We want to provide what they’re expecting when we can and when it doesn’t interfere,” Gilbert says.

He says that if authorities told them to delay activities he would’ve definitely done that.

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