Report details teen's death

Baltimore youth drowned in W.Va. on school field trip

June 02, 2007|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,Sun Reporter

A report detailing the drowning of a 17-year-old Northwest Baltimore student while on a school field trip in the West Virginia wilderness revealed that witnesses said he went into the pool of water on his own after asking classmates, "Y'all dare me to jump in?"

Kenneth Jones, three chaperones and seven other students from Independence School in Hampden -- an alternative public school for students who have struggled in traditional classrooms -- had spent one night in late March in tents pitched deep in the Monongahela National Forest in Elkins, W.Va.

The next afternoon, Jones and three classmates were sitting on rocks and taking pictures of the falls, according to a West Virginia State Police investigation report made public this week.

One student said Jones was warned by the others not to go into the water. The report described the area as a waterfall 15 to 18 feet wide and 20 to 25 feet high.

At the bottom of the waterfall is a pool of water about 50 feet in diameter, with high rock faces on the sides.

Jones went into the water up to his waist, according to a student witness in the report.

The witness said the water then went up to the teenager's chest. and he began to panic, saying, "Save me, I can't swim, help me."

Jones was wearing a black raincoat, black rain pants and black rain boots over shoes.

A student sprinted about 70 yards to get an adult.

Aaron Steinglass, a chaperone, told investigators that he could see the top of Jones' head and shoulders by the time he reached the water.

"I dove in the water and as I did, he went under, farther away," Steinglass said in the report.

He told investigators that he swam around for a while, but the cold and currents forced him out of the water. Steinglass said he saw a student hold out a stick for Jones to grab, but the teenager failed to do so.

His body was removed from the water nearly five hours after the initial 911 call.

Jones' father, who has the same name, said yesterday that he had not seen the West Virginia police report but expects to have it mailed to him.

When told by a reporter about the report's findings, the father said he had not heard any of the witnesses' accounts. Jones said he has yet to speak with anyone who was there.

"This is the first I've heard of this," he said, choking back tears.

Speaking by phone from his home, Jones said he has decided to sue the city school system, although papers have not been filed in court. Jones would not say which lawyer he has retained.

The father said the students should have had constant supervision.

"Supervisors should have never let them out of sight, even if it's just for one minute," he said, adding: "This shouldn't have happened, and I'm still very upset."

City schools officials said they had no comment on the report.

The waterfall is seven miles from the nearest paved road, and it took the first rescue workers more than two hours to respond to a phone call for help.

Cranston Dize, a teacher and supervisor for the field trip, told investigators that the students on the trip were having difficulty in school and were considered a high risk to drop out and join a gang.

Forty-five students attend Independence, which is technically an extension of the Samuel L. Banks High School. The camping trip is part of the school's alternative curriculum.

Dize, husband of the school's principal, said students were given specific instructions to stay out of the water. He described the teenager to investigators as a risk-taker who was emotional and having difficulty at Independence.

brent.jones@baltsun.com

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