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Victim's family, community celebrated for passage of drowning-prevention laws

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Posted at 8:51 PM, Jun 28, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-28 23:46:59-04

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — Local and state leaders came together Monday to honor the mother of a Corpus Christi teenager who drowned after a rip current off Whitecap Beach dragged him out into the Gulf of Mexico in April of 2019.

Kiwana Denson, mother of 18-year-old King High School Senior Je'Sani Smith, led the charge through her Je'Sani Smith Foundation to convince representatives and senators in Austin to pass two laws designed to prevent tragedies like the one that happened to her son.

"I think that (Je'Sani) would certainly be proud that I’m helping to save his friends," Denson said.

State Representative for the Corpus Christi-area, Todd Hunter, emceed the event at the Texas Surf Museum.

While Denson and her family were the focus, he said others deserve recognition for the laws' passage as well.

“Why we’re here today is to not only thank a family who kept the pedal to the metal, but it’s also to let you know what the Coastal Bend did,” Hunter said.

He named several local municipalities, government agencies, and businesses as supporters of this cause.

Two area mayors turned the praise back on Denson.

“I want to thank you for what you’re doing, and what you’re continuing to do," Corpus Christi Mayor Paulette Guajardo said.

“With hope comes action," Rockport Mayor Pat Rios said. "But it takes a special person to go out and to do that.”

Other local leaders said they'd join Denson in her pursuit of more laws to protect beachgoers.

“It will be something that I will continue to work on whether I’m in office or not,” Nueces County Commissioner for Precinct 4 Brent Chesney said while fighting back tears.

Both of the beach safety laws will go into effect September 1.

House Bill 3807, named the Je'Sani Smith Act, orders cities and counties that have Gulf beaches to put up signs and have lifeguards in place between Memorial Day and Labor Day near jetties and other structures that protrude into the water -- locations where rip currents are common.

House Concurrent Resolution 46 establishes April as Beach Safety and Rip Current Awareness Month.

Even though they don't officially take effect until later this summer, Denson thinks the spirit of the laws begins immediately.

“Just because it says September, I’m hoping and praying that we are taking the necessary steps right now to do what we can to make sure we save a life,” she said.

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