Pennsylvania man is first charged with murder by use of a watercraft

June 11, 1991|By Knight-Ridder News Service

AVALON, Pa. -- With her boyfriend's arm around her neck and the chill waters of the Ohio River closing over her head, Melissa Folmer thought she was about to die.

Her boyfriend was screaming "Help, help," and slipping repeatedly beneath the 3-foot-high waves created by a speedboat full of laughing, taunting young men that, she said, circled the swimmers two or three times.

"Swim faster, swim faster," the men yelled, throwing beer cans at the struggling teen-agers in the river, Melissa said. Then the boat sped away toward Pittsburgh, leaving Mark to drown and Melissa to fight her way back to shore.

"I pulled him up once, but he kept going down," the high school junior said last week. "He was hardly breathing.

"He grabbed my neck and I thought I was going to drown. I tried to hold him up, but I couldn't. Before I knew it, he was gone."

Last Tuesday, making the first use ever of a new state law, police arrested painting contractor David Long, 27, and charged him with homicide by watercraft in Mark's death.

It was on May 12 that Mark and Melissa, 17-year-old sweethearts, had swum out to the blue-and-beige speedboat, Melissa said, expecting a quick spin on the river. Instead, they got a cruel and deadly dunking that was detailed last week in an affidavit and by eyewitness accounts.

Mark, Melissa and five friends had been hanging out on the Ohio's north shore when a 22-foot Chris Craft Scorpion throttled up. Come on out, the six strangers called, we'll take you for a ride. Water-skiing was mentioned. Beer was plentiful.

The first ones to toss off their shoes and splash out 50 feet to the boat were Melissa's twin sister, Melinda, and Richard Meyers. When they returned after a 20-minute high-speed cruise, the boat's occupants "hollered for us to come out," Melissa said last week. She and Mark jumped in.

The river was very cold, as Mark and Melissa quickly found. They swam away from shore, but they figured it would not take long to get into the boat and warm up.

But as they approached the boat, the men starting throwing beer cans at them, yelling and laughing, Melissa said. Then, when they were within about five feet of the boat, it started to move.

The Scorpion cut tight, noisy circles around the two swimmers. The3-foot-high waves it pushed up surrounded them, washed over them and made it impossible for them to stay above water, according to the affidavit.

"Once he saw we weren't going to get on the boat, I guess he panicked," Melissa said of her swimming companion. "He was in front of me, reaching back to hold on to me because there was nothing else to hold onto. But I couldn't hold him up."

County and state officials traced the boat to Mr. Long, a self-employed house painter with a drug record. According to court records, Mr. Long told police he was driving the boat and acknowledged giving two teen-agers a ride. But he denied driving the boat recklessly, and he said he had simply motored away when two other swimmers wanted a ride on the boat.

Mr. Long was arrested and charged with involuntary manslaughter, homicide by watercraft, homicide by watercraft while operating under the influence, operating a watercraft under the influence of drugs or alcohol and reckless endangerment.

Mr. Long is the first person to be charged with homicide by watercraft, which the Pennsylvania legislature defined as a crime in January.

Homicide by watercraft is a first-degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to five years in jail and up to $10,000 in fines. Homicide by watercraft while operating under the influence is a felony, punishable by up to seven years in jail and up to $15,000 in fines.

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