Swollen river tosses 8 from their canoes 6 teens from program use survival skills

no injuries on Gunpowder

July 31, 1996|By Jay Apperson | Jay Apperson,SUN STAFF

A canoeing expedition on the Gunpowder Falls turned into a survival exercise yesterday when six teen-agers from a Baltimore County-sponsored job training program were tossed into the rain-swollen river near Monkton.

"I got worried when I saw a boat going down the river upside down, with no one in it," said Jamie Petrucci, a 30-year-old counselor with the program. "I was helping kids who were still in the water, hanging on branches."

Jon Gunter, a 14-year-old student in the group, saw a girl floating away from her capsized canoe.

"I was just yelling to her, 'Keep your head above water,' " the Overlea youth said later. "She [clung] to a tree, but she couldn't hold on long because the water kept pushing past her head."

The girl grabbed the side of a canoe and was delivered safely to the riverbank, he said. Six students and two adults were thrown into the river, but all made it ashore without injury.

The students are from a five-week summer program known as Teens POWER -- short for Teens Protecting Our Water and Environmental Resources. The program, funded by the county Office of Employment and Training, pays the teens minimum-wage salaries while they study aquatic wildlife and collect trash from areas such as the Gunpowder and Back rivers.

Yesterday, 14 students and six teachers and counselors set out in 10-foot canoes to dig a tractor-trailer tire from the riverbed. They planned to use inner tubes to raft the heavy tire toward the bridge at Monkton Road, where a tow-truck operator would hoist it.A television news crew was invited to record the event.

Conditions did not seem dangerous when the group of teen-agers embarked at Bluemount Road, participants said.

But heavy rains had drenched northern Baltimore County early yesterday, causing creeks to crest up to 2 feet above normal and forcing the closing of 11 roads, authorities said. The students and staff soon were battling rising water and surprisingly swift currents.

Sharon Davis, coordinator of off-site activities for the program, said the river rose more than 3 feet above its normal level. "Were I clairvoyant and knew the river would go up that far, we wouldn't have gone in."

Bob Graham, a spokesman for the state Department of Natural Resources, said park rangers offer informal advice on river conditions, but apparently no one from the group called.

"Had someone called, the ranger I talked to would have suggested that someone not be on there," Graham said. He said water from storms as far west as Prettyboy Reservoir and as far north as Pennsylvania can cause rough water on the river.

Stephen J. Ponzillo III, principal of the Rosedale Center for Alternative Studies, which operates the program, said the incident will be reviewed.

Although some students were frightened, in the end the safety drills and lessons on teamwork paid off, program officials said.

Petrucci, the counselor, said: "Today was a real test, and they showed their true colors."

Pub Date: 7/31/96

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