Centerdel Farm in Kennedyville, where the bodies of a Mennonite… (Baltimore Sun photo by Kevin…)
KENNEDYVILLE — — Many farmers in this rural Kent County community were left shaken after a father and his two teenage sons were found dead early Thursday in a pond full of liquid manure on a local dairy farm.
The deaths appear to be accidental, but investigators will wait for autopsy results before ruling out foul play, said Greg Shipley, Maryland State Police spokesman.
The bodies, tentatively identified as those of Glen W. Nolt, 48, and his two sons, Kelvin R. Nolt, 18, and Cleason S. Nolt, 14, all of Peach Bottom, Pa., had taken hours to find, submerged in a 20-foot-deep, 2-million-gallon manure pit on Centerdel Farm, state police said.
Rescue crews had found the father's pickup truck and a tractor, both still running, about 8 p.m. Wednesday near the pond of animal waste. Members of the Nolt family had alerted police about 6 p.m. when the three hadn't returned for scheduled milking on their own farm.
The three had been working with an augur or conveyor, which was hooked to the tractor. The equipment keeps the manure in the pit swirling as it pulls it out and sprays it on the ground to dry so it can be spread on farm fields.
The farm is in the middle of hundreds of acres of green and light-brown crops on the Eastern Shore.
Farming operations have become far more mechanized over the years, but many of the farms are still owned by the same families who have worked the soil here for generations, neighbors said.
Nolt and his sons were last seen about 2 p.m. Wednesday, but their work often meant they worked long hours away from others, said Laura Phitts, who has run the 200-acre Centerdel Farm on Vansant Corner Road since 1992 and oversees 180 cows.
"They often work all night long on their own, so I was not alarmed when I noticed the pump kept running," Phitts said. "But when they didn't return to their own farm to milk, the family really became alarmed."
The Nolts typically work at Centerdel Farm about three times a year and had already pumped the pit in March, Phitts said.
"They are a Mennonite family, really great people and really hard workers," Phitts said. "Many of [their relatives] were here all night waiting for news with the police and fire crews."
Heavy-duty vacuuming equipment was brought in late Wednesday night from a neighboring farm in an effort to empty the pit, which is about 150 feet wide and 300 feet long. The first body was recovered at 1:15 a.m. A second was found at 4 a.m., and the last was pulled from the pit at 5:45 a.m., police said.
"There really is no way to know what happened," said Phitts. There were no witnesses, and the pit is in an isolated area of the large dairy operation, police said.
Bob and Betty Freeman, whose family owned the farm for decades and who now live on an acre at the edge of it, were awakened early Thursday by a phone call from a friend asking them about what had occurred at their former farm. They didn't know, but when they learned the details, they were shocked.
"It was just unbelievable that something like that had occurred," Betty Freeman said.
Bob Freeman's parents purchased the farm in 1930, and he has never heard of anything like this happening, he said.
He'd seen the Nolts drive past the day before, and they'd all waved, he said.
"You turn the television on and hear all these things going on around the world," he said, "but when it touches this close to home, you stop and think about it again, because this is unheard-of around here."
"It's just unimaginable how they must have suffered," Betty Freeman said.
Judy Crow, of the nearby Crow Farm, said she was also awoken by a concerned friend calling and was disturbed by the news.
She has hired Mennonite workers to build fences and knows local farmers who have hired them for roofing and building barns, she said.
"They're known for high-quality work, and they can get a job done in a timely manner," she said.
Farming is dangerous, she said, and she has often worried about her husband, Roy Crow, a former Kent County commissioner, if he's out in the fields longer than expected or is climbing high into a silo.
"Challenges and accidents happen all the time," she said. "Not this severe, but it is dangerous work."
The deaths brought up new concerns, she said.
"It makes you stop and think: Are we being as safe as possible?" she said.