Student Dies on Lake Fontana Over Summer

Matthew Klonkowski, 20, of Sylva, formerly a resident of Franklin, spent his last few moments with friends on Lake Fontana, where he accidentally drowned on June 23.

A native of Racine, Wisc., he graduated in 1999 from Franklin High School with honors and achieved the status of Star in the Boy Scouts.

The tube Klonkowski was using slipped away from him, according to Swain County Emergency Management director, David Breedlove.

“He was under water for several hours,” said Breedlove. “They had to determine that it was past the point that they could do anything.”

John Filkins, Klonkowski’s roommate, worked construction with him over the summer, and was with him the day he died.

Filkins said that he, Klonkowski and another friend were floating on tubes in Lake Fontana when the wind took Klonkowski’s tube away from him.

He said Klonkowski panicked and went under.

The driver of a passing boat helped look for Klonkowski, but then left to call for help.

“He was a great guy and had no enemies,” said Filkins.

Klonkowski also worked a part-time job at the Cullowhee Pizza Hut during June, where he was valued as an employee and friend, according to Manager John Douthit.

“He was a real laid back guy, real easy-going, always happy, and always found the good in everything,” said friend and fellow employee, Heather Marshall.

Former WCU graduate assistant, Margie Koch, taught Klonkowski English 101 and 102 during his freshman year.

She said they often talked about poetry or music-his two passions.

“Matt was quiet in nature, but strong in personality and spirit,” said Koch. “Losing a student is difficult, but losing Matthew was incredibly difficult-he was very special to me.”

From friends to fellow employees to teachers, Klonkowski will be missed by many.

Jackie Fortener, of the Swain County Sheriff’s Department, was the investigating officer, and the North Carolina Wildlife Department and the Tennessee Valley Authority assisted in the attempted rescue.