Montgomery County

Schenectady man dies after jumping from Canajoharie falls

On a hot, humid, Memorial Day, a Schenectady man lost his life to the falls at Wintergreen Park.
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On a hot, humid, Memorial Day, a Schenectady man lost his life to the falls at Wintergreen Park.

According to Montgomery County Undersheriff Jeff Smith, friends of Schenectady resident Israel Vazquez, 25, called 911 around 3 p.m. saying Vazquez had jumped into the pool at the bottom of the falls but did not resurface.

Area fire departments, ambulances and law enforcement responded, but Vazquez was pronounced dead on the scene.

“It’s a fairly regular thing,” village Mayor Francis Avery said of Monday’s accident. “We may skip a few years, but then it happens again. The worst is holiday weekends when it’s hot and humid.”

The allure of cliff jumping draws many thrill seekers each year past the numerous “no swimming” signs surrounding the falls.

“There are ‘no swimming’ signs, ‘no trespassing’ signs, all of the above,” Smith said. “They stop people who follow the rules, but unfortunately some people choose to put both themselves and the emergency response teams at risk.”

Each season, numerous trespassers are issued tickets. Daniel Rodriguez, 22, Luis M. Mandonado, 22, and Damans Rodriguez, 43, all of Amsterdam, Vazquez’s companions at the falls, were all issued appearance tickets on charges of disobeying signage and trespassing.

However, problems can be far greater for those who do not get caught.

The pool 40 feet below the cliff looks deep enough from above, but there is a stone ledge a few feet out that is not visible. That ledge, combined with the slippery moss-covered rocks, has led to many injuries over the years and several more serious incidents.

Alexander Lee, a 19-year-old Union College student, died in 2001 after jumping from the falls, as did Jesse Nabinger, 18, of Fonda, in 2003 and Christine Biamonte, 16, of Little Falls, in 2004.

In the aftermath of the latest death, local authorities are left wondering how to recoup the money spent on rescue efforts.

Fire departments from Canajoharie, Fort Plain, Rural Grove, Ames, and St. Johnsville, along with ambulances, state and village police and the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office, responded to the call Monday — which is expensive. Avery plans to ask the Village Board to pass a resolution that would enable Canajoharie to collect restitution from victims’ families.

Though Avery is unsure if the resolution would take effect in time to recoup the cost of Monday’s rescue attempt, he hopes it will pay for future emergencies at the falls.

“It’s costing the taxpayer a lot of money,” he said. “A resolution like this has never happened in Canajoharie before, but I’m willing to put it into effect as soon as possible.”

The exact cost of a rescue attempt from the falls will be calculated before Avery presents the resolution to the board.

Categories: Schenectady County

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