Police, fire agencies warn against risky swimming

Man died this weekend after he jumped into Stony Kill Creek
Stillwater Bridge in 2016.
Stillwater Bridge in 2016.

Hot weather has arrived, and with it a problem for local police and fire agencies: people risking injury or drowning by jumping into rivers.

Patrols are watching for those who decide to cool off by swimming in local bodies of water — sometimes jumping from bridges into the cold.

Sunday afternoon, a 19-year-old Valatie man died after he jumped into the Stony Kill Creek in Chatham. Friends said Brett Cappelli never resurfaced; divers pulled the man’s body from 15 feet of water.

“Water safety is always a concern, especially as we have the river,” said Deputy Chief Chris Keough of the Schenectady Fire Department. “It is definitely something we train for. We have water rescue equipment on one of our special operations vehicles.”

While a quick swim in the Mohawk may seem like a good idea on a hot day, the wade into the water can quickly turn into a bad idea.

“From the shore, you could look at the river and it doesn’t appear to be that dangerous of a situation,” Keough said. “But that water is moving a lot faster than it appears to be from the shore.”

An inexperienced swimmer could get caught in strong current and panic. And people walking into the river could find themselves three feet deep in one spot and seven feet deep just a few steps later.

Keough said jumps into the water are also dangerous. If people can’t see the bottom, they cannot judge how deep the water is.

“Unless you’re very familiar with that river, you may never know,” Keough said.

Schenectady’s four public pools won’t open until late June. Central Park’s pool and the Quackenbush pool open Monday, June 26; the Front Street and Hillhurst pools open Wednesday, June 28.

Niskayuna’s town pool at 2682 Aqueduct Road opens for the 2017 season on Saturday at noon. There are no public park pools in Rotterdam or Glenville. A new “splash pad” is expected to cool off children in Scotia’s Collins Park this summer.

There will be no swimming in the village’s Collins Lake, which has been closed since Tropical Storm Irene covered the bottom of the lake with four centimeters of sediment in late August 2011.

“It’s improving, and we’re really hopeful for next year,” said Scotia Parks and Recreation Supervisor Jim Marx. “We’re basically just going to do a lot of sampling this summer. If we get good results throughout the course of the summer, then I think we’re going to shoot for next year.”

Water clarity is the problem.

“You need to be able to see four feet into the water column,” Marx said. “We lose that as soon as kids start churning up the bottom; it plumes up like talcum powder and doesn’t settle out quick enough.”

Saratoga County Sheriff Michael Zurlo cautioned against jumping into any body of water.

On July 12, sheriff’s deputies investigated the drowning of Walter Craft, 15, of Stillwater. He and friends had jumped from the Stillwater Bridge into the Hudson River. While the group was swimming, Craft went under and did not come back up.

“Our message is: Know your surroundings,” Zurlo said. “Know where you’re swimming; go with somebody else. A lot of these bodies of water you jump into — say it’s the river, and you’re jumping from a bridge — you don’t know how deep it is. You don’t know what’s underneath. There could be a pillar there, there could be other stuff.”

Zurlo said patrols are watching for bathers on land and on the water.

“Our navigation patrols are out there. They’re on the Sacandaga. They’re on the Hudson. They’re on Saratoga Lake (and) Ballston Lake,” Zurlo said . “They see something unusual where people are off to the side trying to jump into an area (patrols) think is not a good place to swim, they’ll have a conversation with these people.”

In the past, young people have been seen leaping from sections of the Rexford Bridge into the Mohawk. Ongoing construction at the site has convinced some to stay away, at least during daylight hours.

Zurlo said his patrols’ first conversations with jumpers will include a warning.

“The second time you’re back there, you’re probably going to face the consequences,” Zurlo said. “Probably trespass (charges).”

Reach Gazette reporter Jeff Wilkin at 395-3124, [email protected] or @jeffwilkin1 on Twitter.

Categories: -News-, Schenectady County

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