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Hagerstown man dies in Potomac dam plunge

May 21, 1998|By LISA GRAYBEAL

CLEAR SPRING - A Hagerstown man was killed Wednesday night after he and the operator of a Sea Doo water craft capsized in the Potomac River and plunged over Dam No. 5, according to Maryland Natural Resources Police.

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George W. Yarnell V, 31, of 1547 Violet Drive, had been riding on the back of the brand new, bright yellow water craft in the river above the dam at about 5:30 p.m. when it capsized, said Officer W. Ray Harner.

The water craft's operator, Stephen Wayne Jacobs, 26, of 410 E. 9th St., Frederick, Md., who is familiar with the river and knew the dam was ahead, said they lost their balance and overturned as they made a turn above the dam to head back up river, Harner said.

Yarnell apparently yelled to Jacobs to save the water craft, Harner said. Jacobs was able to get to the Sea Doo and hold on to it before the rapid current swept him over the 18-foot-high dam, Harner said.

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At that point, Jacobs lost site of Yarnell, Harner said.

After he struggled away from the rapids at the base of the dam, Jacobs searched for Yarnell and found him lying face down along the bank of a small island downstream from the dam, Harner said.

He immediately started administering CPR, he said.

Jacobs and Yarnell were wearing life jackets, Harner said.

A fisherman, Marlin C. Brunner, of Guilford Avenue, Hagerstown, who was riding up the river from Williamsport in his boat, saw Jacobs waving from the island, Harner said. Brunner hauled Jacobs and Yarnell into his boat and took them to shore, he said.

"We were walking down to go fishing when this guy in a boat yelled to call 911," said Jamie Deeds, 16, of Clear Spring.

He and his friend, 17-year-old Jammie Blair of Clear Spring, ran along a narrow gravel and dirt path, over two wooden bridges, up a steep hill and across Dam No. 5 Road to a home where they called for help, Deeds said.

By the time rescuers from Clear Spring Volunteer Fire Department and Clear Spring Ambulance Co. arrived at the scene, Harner, Maryland Ranger Brian Albert, and National Park Service Ranger George Delancey already were with Jacobs and Yarnell on the river bank, said Charlie Mundey, assistant chief of the fire department.

Yarnell was pronounced dead at the scene. An autopsy will be performed today in Baltimore to determine the exact cause of death, said Patty Manown Mash, spokeswoman for the state Department of Natural Resources.

A wet and obviously distraught Jacobs, who was still wearing his yellow and gray life vest over a black T-shirt and shorts as he told officials what happened, said he had no comment about the accident.

The water craft, which is only a few weeks old, was not damaged, Harner said.

It is prohibited to operate a vessel a half mile above and below Potomac River Dam No. 5, which is posted on a board at a parking area that overlooks the dam.

Harner said no charges have been filed.

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