New Castle News

Local News

June 30, 2013

Rescuers urge respect for Slippery Rock Creek

NEW CASTLE — When David Rishel got the call Wednesday night, he knew what had happened.

A member of the Lawrence County Dive Team, Rishel — also Shenango Township’s fire chief — has come to expect being summoned to Slippery Rock Creek drownings as the weather warms and people head outdoors to enjoy it.

“I got there as soon as I could,” he said. “My son Brandon was already in the water.”

Within 90 minutes — about 7:30 p.m. — the father-son diving team found the body of Mazzarney Kiyham Sanford, 22, of West Penn Street, Butler. He was in 18 to 20 feet of fast-moving water, they said, tightly wedged between two boulders in a hole about 300 yards below Kennedy Mill Bridge in Slippery Rock Township. It took the efforts of both men to pry Sanford lose.

Sanford had been with friends at a popular swimming hole on private property.

“The advantage was his friends saw where he went down and could show us,” Rishel said.

Even if Sanford had been a good swimmer, he said, “the water temperature was 72 degrees. When your body, at 98.6 degrees, plunges into that, it goes into a slight shock. Sometimes you don’t recover.”

Rishel also was pleased the recovery had been made before dark. Conditions along the creek’s banks, which are challenging in the daytime, are unsafe after dark.

“It’s difficult to get into and out of these places,” he said. “And when you’re carrying 100 pounds of gear and a victim, it’s even harder getting out.”

Rishel noted the site of the drowning is not safe but is a popular swimming spot. He said “about 70 kids” were leaving as he arrived.

Also participating in the rescue were the New Castle Fire Department divers, who are members of the Lawrence County Diving Team, the Butler County Diving Team, Scott, Princeton, Shenango, Hickory and Slippery Rock volunteer fire departments from Lawrence County and Portersville Volunteer Fire Department from Butler County.

Scott Township Fire Chief Jack Hitchen manned the command center.

The 50 people involved, Hitchen said, have been trained and certified for swift water rescue.

He said Slippery Rock Creek is a dangerous river and people who enjoy it must learn to respect it.

“This is the first drowning at Kennedy Mills and McConnell’s Mill this season,” he said. “It won’t be the last.”

Chief George Johnson of the Slippery Rock Township Volunteer Fire Department, said the call came at 6:15 p.m. His department wrapped up at 8:45 p.m.

“That hole had been posted,” he said, “But people tore the signs down.”

Johnson said the creek and its many swimming holes are deceptive.

“The first foot down you have normal water. After that, it can be raging. It’s a stream that kills.”

In the last year, he said, rescue teams have participated in three searches and six falls involving people who veer off marked trails or rappel down cliff walls. Generally, he added, at least one accidental drowning occurs each year.

He added that volunteer rescue workers are trained and certified in many rescue procedures and provide excellent help. “But we signed on to be firefighters. Between medical calls, vehicle accidents and rescues, fighting fires is the thing we do the least.”

Johnson recommended users of McConnell’s Mill State Park use common sense and consider safety.

“The water is deceiving. We’ve pulled out many expert swimmers. Instructors and even rescuers are not exempt from becoming victims.”

He advised park visitors to stay on marked trails and paths and follow the rules.

“Respect the creek and shoreline. Enjoy the park but do it safely. The choices you make could mean life or death.”


Text Only | Photo Reprints
Local News
  • money.jpg City imposing new regulations for vendors

    The city of New Castle is tightening regulations and imposing new ones for mobile food and transient vendors.


    July 26, 2014 1 Photo

  • money.jpg New recreation fees adopted

    New Castle City Council has adopted a new fee schedule for Cascade and Darlington parks. The new schedule runs from 2014 through 2016.

    July 26, 2014 1 Photo

  • HolidayInn.jpg Union Township getting another hotel

    Union Township is getting a Holiday Inn Express. John McClure, owner of McClure Realty, said he had closed a transaction Thursday on 3.8 acres on West State Street for the venture, a couple hundred yards west of the Hampton Inn.

    July 25, 2014 1 Photo

  • audit.jpg Shenango pension fund audit due ‘this summer’

    The audit report of the Shenango Township pension funds are expected to be released this summer.

    July 25, 2014 1 Photo

  • HIShands.jpg Local youths team up with His Hands Ministries to do home repair for those who can’t afford it

    Area youth from various Lawrence County churches started lending a helping hand Wednesday to residents in need. The annual Lawrence County Youth Ministries service event brings together students and adults for three days of volunteering. It is part of His Hands Ministries, an initiative involving local churches and volunteers who split into work groups to perform  home improvement tasks for elderly and low-income homeowners in the community.

    July 24, 2014 1 Photo

  • Blight.jpg Funds would target Lower East Side demolition

    The Lawrence County planning department and New Castle officials are partnering to wipe out neighborhood blight. They plan to start with the city’s Lower East Side.

    July 24, 2014 1 Photo

  • movietheater.jpg Overcoming addiction theme of movie

    The movie, “Anonymous People” will be shown at 7:30 p.m. July 30 at Westgate Cinemas.

    July 23, 2014 1 Photo

  • BalloonQuest.jpg Balloon Quest ready to soar again this weekend

    The Western Pennsylvania Balloon Quest will mark its 25th anniversary this weekend at Union Township’s Scotland Meadows Park.


    July 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • Boatlaunch.jpg County pursuing funds for more boat launches

    Lawrence County planners are pursuing funds to complete more boat launches. At their meeting last week, the county commissioners agreed to apply for $74,000 from the Commonwealth Finance Authority, through the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development, for the matching funds.

    July 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • Road.jpg FirstEnergy announces transmission line project

    FirstEnergy Corp. has announced plans to replace 9.6 miles of overhead electrical transmission line in Lawrence and Mahoning counties.


    July 22, 2014 1 Photo