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Search for man stalls

June 17, 2003|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

gregs@herald-mail.com

An underwater search for a man who officials believe drowned in Antietam Creek Sunday was called off Monday after divers decided it was too dangerous to continue.

Mark Alan Fry, 35, of Robinwood Drive in Hagerstown, was swimming with a friend in the creek Sunday night at a popular spot near the Creekside Inn on Security Road when he disappeared in the water, police and rescue officials said.

Washington County Sheriff's Department deputies, rescue workers and a Maryland State Police helicopter and divers began searching for Fry Sunday night. They were unsuccessful, and searchers gathered again Monday morning.

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Investigators at first hoped to narrow the search area, but the woman swimming with Fry - who reached shore after being swept downstream - couldn't say for sure where he went under, said John Latimer, Long Meadow Volunteer Fire Department chief, who was the lead fire and rescue official for Monday's search efforts.

A state police helicopter spotted a logjam several hundred yards down the creek, and officials believed that likely would narrow the search area, but Latimer said there still was a large area to cover.

Swift waters prompted officials to call off the search Monday.

Washington County Underwater Rescue/Recovery Team leader Bill Garcia entered the water just after 1 p.m. tethered to the shore. After swimming a few feet, he returned to shore.

Garcia said the water just off the shore was calm, but just a few feet out, where the main flow of the creek met with the smaller flow from Marsh Run, "it's like a wall."

"It's like it's flowing this way and that way when they converge, and it just pulls your feet right out from under you," he said.

Garcia met with rescue officials and police and said it would be too dangerous to send divers out to search below the surface in water leading up to the dam or beyond the dam, where Fry's body could be trapped.

"We just don't want to sacrifice anybody else" to search an area where officials were not positive Fry could be, Garcia said.

A Maryland Department of Natural Resources team searched the shoreline by boat but failed to find Fry.

Sgt. Mark Knight, a Washington County Sheriff's Department investigator, said further search operations would depend on when the creek level recedes enough to resume a search. He said that could be as early as today.

Michael Swomley, 32, Fry's roommate, was at the search site Monday and said he was with Fry before he decided to go swimming.

Swomley said he and several friends, including Fry, had gathered to hang out Sunday afternoon at the Creekside Inn.

Then Fry and the woman, whom he'd met at his apartment complex, decided to go swimming, Swomley said.

Swomley said that about 20 minutes after the two left, he and a friend went to check on the swimmers. Swomley said he saw their clothes piled on the creek shore, and the woman had been swept down the creek.

Police, called because of screams coming from the creek, arrived as Swomley began running toward the woman, he said.

"She was already out of there. I never seen Mark (Fry)," Swomley said.

Swomley looked at the water that Monday still was rushing over the concrete dam and wondered why the two would have tried to swim in the water.

"It's crazy. ... Just looking at it, just visually, I wouldn't go in there," Swomley said.

People gathered around the search site Monday said the bend in the creek just a few hundred feet east of Eastern Boulevard has been popular for decades because of the usually calm waters created by the dam.

Jean Barbour, 68, now lives in Halfway, but said she used to live on Antietam Drive near the creek. She said she had fond memories of the swimming spot.

"It's the coldest water in Hagerstown," she said.

She said that when she was 17, a girl who jumped off a rope bridge that used to span the creek began to drown, and she jumped in to save her. While the bridge is now gone, a rope swing still hangs from a tree on the far side of the creek.

"We dipped down there, used to fish," Barbour said. "My momma would holler for me when it was time to eat."

Dwayne Schlotterbeck, 35, said he used to swim there, too, and safety was not a concern.

"There was so many people here, you never worried about it," Schlotterbeck said.

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