FAIRMONT (AP) —
The superintendent of Valley Falls State Park will decide over the next few days whether to file charges against a couple whose dog was swept over the waterfalls and two fishermen who violated a swimming ban when they jumped in to rescue it.
Superintendent Ron Fawcett has pulled eight bodies out of the frigid, swift-moving Tygart Valley River in the 18 years he’s run the Fairmont park. He said Monday that the body count nearly rose when a couple went wading with two dogs and a little girl.
One dog jumped off a 2.5-foot ledge, was swept over the first set of falls and became stranded on the rocks Saturday, Fawcett said. Two fishermen jumped in to rescue it, and one of them was nearly swept over the second set of falls.
Fawcett said he screamed and gestured at the fishermen to stop, but they couldn’t hear him over the roar of the water. Now he’s consulting with the Marion County prosecutor’s office on whether to charge them.
Swimming, wading and the consumption of alcohol are banned at the park, and signs warn of the dangers and fines. Though fines can be as little as $20, Fawcett said court costs are about $168.
Fawcett said media reports about the possibility of charges have made some people angry, but he doesn’t care.
“I’d rather have people getting ticked at me than pull them out dead,” he said Monday. “This place is beautiful, but it will kill you in a heartbeat.”
Two brothers died in September 2008, and the wife of one nearly died trying to rescue them, Fawcett said.
More than 150 drownings have been documented, he said, most in the past 60-70 years.
Fawcett, a trained diver, said the river is the most dangerous place he’s dived in 30 years. Water travels downstream about 10 miles from a 140-foot dam, he said, and it remains “ice cold” when it hits the park.
“If you don’t get the bodies out within 10 minutes, they’re so gelled up you can’t revive them,” he said. “I’ve taken eight bodies out of here, so I know how fast it can happen.”
The current sucks back up under the falls, “and that’s a big, giant whirlpool,” Fawcett said. Hidden below is another hazard — twisted railroad steel washed into the river after an 1888 flood.
“I had it under control. I had a boat and firemen on the way, and it just escalated,” he said of Saturday’s incident. “We could have wound up with two dead people and a dead dog.”
Authorities in Barbour County are also worried about drownings in the river.
They say a swimming ban at the Pleasant Creek Wildlife Management Area could drive more swimmers to a popular hangout near Arden called Party Rock.
Barbour County Sheriff John Hawkins said the strong current can sweep and hold swimmers under water. Alcohol and drugs are often involved in the accidents and drownings.
Authorities have already rescued three teenagers and a dog this season.
Hawkins said his deputies have increased patrols, and they’ll enforce a state law that bans parking within 10 feet of the roadway.
County Commissioner Phil Hart said officials are considering new signs to warn people of the dangers.