Identities sought for 2 who drowned Raft capsized

flood current pulled pair through dam

June 21, 1996|By Kathleen B. Hennelly | Kathleen B. Hennelly,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

Howard and Baltimore county police were trying yesterday to identify the bodies of two people who drowned when their inflatable raft capsized and they were sucked through the Union Bridge Dam Wednesday on the turbulent Patapsco River.

The bodies were taken to the Baltimore medical examiner's office, where their fingerprints will be taken to help in identification. Police in both counties said there had been no missing persons reports filed that fit the pair.

Meanwhile, officials from the state Department of Natural Resources are questioning campers at the Patapsco Valley State Park and looking for abandoned camp sites that may hold clues to the identities of the victims.

At the time of the accident, the water at the dam was 3 to 5 feet above the dam, said Bob Graham, a DNR spokesman. Usually the water is below the top of the dam. The current in the Patapsco River below the dam was strong enough to move logs and even part of a refrigerator.

An unidentified witness who saw the accident described the victims as a white male and female in their late teens or early 20s.

He told DNR and Baltimore and Howard county police officers that he saw the boat capsize and watched as the victims traveled through the dam's flow regulators.

He saw the man disappear under the water. Although he followed the woman downstream to see if he could rescue her, the water was too swift for him to attempt a rescue, Graham said.

After he lost sight of the woman's body, he ran to the DNR maintenance shop in the Hollifield section of the Patapsco Valley State Park for help.

Park rangers, the Baltimore and Howard county police and fire departments and DNR worked to recover the bodies.

The man's body was found washed ashore at 6 p.m. Wednesday on the Baltimore County side of the Patapsco near Frederick Road south of historic Ellicott City. Baltimore County police Sgt. Kevin Novak said the body had suffered injuries, but he couldn't say what caused the injuries.

The woman's body was found at 8 p.m. Wednesday near Oella, but officials couldn't recover the body until 2: 30 p.m. yesterday.

"There were complications extracting the woman's body," Novak said. "She was caught up in a tree, and by the time we found her, the water had started to rise and was too swift. It eventually submerged the tree and her."

Officials also had problems reaching the site, which is accessible only by foot or train. CSX Transportation helped transport equipment and officials by rail to the scene, Novak said.

Flooded areas in Howard County cleared up yesterday, despite a brief afternoon storm.

River Road near Sykesville is free of the water that swelled out of the South Branch Patapsco River that runs parallel to the road in Patapsco Valley State Park.

Although the river still was running high, resident Gay Green, 81, said the river was much worse Wednesday.

Then, "the water was as high as the guardrails," he said. "There was at least 2 feet on top of the road of running river water, and people were still driving through."

Only evidence of the flooding remained. Trees, grass and shrubs were pinned to the ground where the current had swept over them leaving silt and debris.

Throughout the county, residents have experienced fallen tree limbs and flooded basements because of the storms. Few plumbers in the area said they pump basements, but those who do are very busy.

"It's definitely been on the increase because of all the rain," said William Cuffley of the Drain Opener company of Columbia. "We've been doing this for the last three days -- and nights, too."

Another local plumber, Catons Plumbing Heating and Air, said business has been busy all this week. "It's unbelievable. We've had to pump all over Howard County, Baltimore County, parts of Carroll County -- everywhere."

Those plumbing agencies that do not offer pumping services were recommending that callers try the Howard County Fire Department.

But fire spokesman Lt. Sean Kelly said that -- contrary to popular belief -- the Fire Department does not pump out basements unless there is an emergency. The county stopped pumping out basements several years ago.

Pub Date: 6/21/96

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