‘What Any Parent’s Gonna Do’

Drowned Firefighter Was 'Always the Hero'  
By Joe Kovac Jr.  / Originally published May 23, 2011
It was the young father’s first time fishing. Two of his sons were already old pros. They would help him. They knew a great spot.

As side-of-the-road fishing holes go, the one out off Moseley Dixon Road, just down the cove from a fish house where Oprah Winfrey once ate, is about as family-friendly as they come.

There is a gravel parking patch beneath the pines. There aren’t many weeds. The dirt shoreline doesn’t boast enough sand to really call it a beach, but for getting your feet wet or bank fishing it’s perfect. Folks often pull in to feed bread to the ducks and geese who make Lake Tobesofkee their home.

Saturday afternoon, Mike Jones, a 24-year-old who was only days into a 16-week training regimen to become a Macon firefighter, went to the lake with his wife and three sons.

Jones had grown up in the city’s Pleasant Hill neighborhood, on Fourth Avenue, a block south of Walnut Street and just west of Interstate 75. He taught his younger sister, Tiffany, to tie her shoes, to ride her bike.

“He was always the hero,” Tiffany, 22, says. “If he saw you on the side of the road he was gonna stop and help you.”

For much of the past six years, Mike worked at Lowe’s to help put his wife, Tykia, through nursing school.

Saturday, Tykia introduced him to her fishing spot.

She went there pretty much every week, either by herself or with their boys 7-year-old Jarell, 5-year-old Joshua and 7-month-old Justin.

Now Mike, in long pants, a T-shirt and Polo boots, joined them to take in the outdoors.

It was his first time ever handling a pole, baiting hooks with red wigglers.

Sometime after 6 p.m., Tykia drove to a store for drinks.

When she returned, Mike was dead.

* * *

The fishing spot sits about two miles west of Interstate 475. From town, you take Thomaston Road out over the freeway to Moseley Dixon and hang a left.

The spot is down about a mile or so on the left, just past a tiny bridge that crosses Tobesofkee’s northeastern tip.

The Fish N’ Pig restaurant, where Oprah dined when she hosted her famous talk show here in 2007, lies a few hundred yards further west, next to a marina below the lake’s main entrance.

When Mike’s wife returned from the store Saturday evening, it was after 6:45, after people had called 911, after Mike had gone underwater and not come up.

In the moments before that, as best investigators can tell, Mike had rushed into the lake, not far from shore, to help one of his sons who was being tugged under by an 8-year-old girl they had met and begun playing with.

Mike had been toting his 7-month-old son Justin in a harness around his chest. Mike unstrapped Justin, left him on the bank and raced into the water, Bibb County sheriff’s Lt. Paul Edwards said Sunday.

Mike's two older boys, Edwards says, had been splashing in the water with the 8-year-old girl. Then, when Mike noticed the girl thrashing, struggling and grabbing onto one of his sons, he dashed in to save them all.

“He jumps in and grabs the girl, basically throwing her to the [bank],” Edwards said, noting that eyewitness accounts were still being gathered and that investigators had yet to talk to the 8-year-old girl’s family.

Mike then shoved one of his two older sons ashore. That left one son, 7-year-old Jarell who’d drifted further out, still in need of rescue.

“[Mike] goes out and gets him and starts pushing him [to safety],” Edwards said, adding that all of the commotion happened within 10-to-15 yards of shore.

“So they get closer to shore and a lady reaches to grab Mike’s hand ... and he slips, maybe on a rock.”

Edwards said, “He did what any parent’s gonna do. He did what firemen are trained to do. But for whatever reason, he slipped. It could’ve been a catfish hole. It could’ve been a rock. He went down and he never came back up.”

* * *

Mike dreamed of becoming a firefighter.

He’d gone to his childhood-neighborhood school, Williams Elementary, and, later, Central High, before joining the Job Corps and graduating as an electrician’s apprentice.

He was working at Lowe’s when he first applied at the fire department in 2007. After that, he kept checking back for openings. He began fire-department orientation last week.

“The only reason he got on was because he was persistent,” Tykia said. “That’s all he talked about, every time he would see a fire truck. He just said he liked saving people. Anybody that knows Mike knows that he loves you to death. ... I could say something horrible or do something horrible and he was gonna still be there for me.”

Mike was a fan of NFL quarterback Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts. Tykia, 27, who can’t stand football, would tell Mike she loved Tom Brady just to pick at him.

For fun, they and their kids liked to go swimming. Sometimes they’d check into motels just to use the pools.

Mike loved going out to dinner. His new favorite thing was the chicken alfredo at Olive Garden.

Mike would have turned 25 on July 6.

* * *

People prayed at the lakeside Saturday as the sun went down.

In the minutes before Mike’s body was found, family members said things like, “Please, Lord, don’t let it happen.”

“He’s gonna swim up,” a man kept saying. “He’s gonna swim up.”

But Michael Dewayne Jones Jr. never did.

About 8 o’clock, rescuers spotted him, drowned, not far from shore.

In the end, it was the firefighters the very people he would no doubt have worked alongside, the first-responders he aspired to be a part of who pulled him ashore.

Mike had told his wife he didn’t want his boys growing up with a father who just sat on the corner all day and did nothing.

So every time Mike saw firefighters at Lowe’s, he’d be all over them, inquiring about landing a job.

Mike had always told his wife that when he died, he wanted his sons to remember him as a professional life-saver, a firefighter, a daddy who made it his life’s work to help others.

“I guess he’s gonna get that wish,” Tykia said. “He wanted them to be proud of him.

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