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W.Va. man died doing what he enjoyed

November 01, 2005|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

HEDGESVILLE, W.Va. - Charles Thomas Bitner Sr., the Morgan County man who drowned in a lake in the Sleepy Creek Wildlife Management Area Sunday, was a survivor.

The 56-year-old man had overcome cirrhosis of the liver and was an eight-year cancer survivor, family members said.

"He basically beat all the odds and then fell out of a boat," said Ronnie Bitner of Baltimore, one of Bitner's four children.

"It's just kind of hard," said his wife, Nancy Dews Bitner.

Bitner, who lived on Short Mountain Road, was fishing with another man in a boat in the lake when a battery powering a motor on the boat died, said Mike Sibole, a conservation officer with the state Department of Natural Resources.

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Bitner stood up and handed an oar to a passenger, Sibole said.

When Bitner stood up, the boat capsized, causing both men to fall into the water, Sibole said.

The passenger made it to shore, but told authorities he could not see Bitner, Sibole said.

The passenger went to a location near Jones Spring to call for help, Sibole said.

Rescue crews arrived at the scene and were able to quickly remove Bitner from the water, Sibole said.

The water where the drowning occurred was about 10 feet to 15 feet deep, Sibole said.

Bitner enjoyed fishing at the lake and this was the first year he had a boat to use there, his wife said.

For most of his life, Bitner worked as a "parts dismantler," which involved removing parts from cars in salvage yards, said Ronnie Bitner.

Most recently, Bitner had been working at a salvage yard in Brunswick, Md., family members said.

Bitner was also a U.S. Marine and served three tours of duty during the Vietnam War, his wife said.

The Sleepy Creek Wildlife Management area is a state recreational area that stretches along the Berkeley and Morgan county lines. The lake meanders through a wooded area and is accessed from different sites.

Bitner's death marked the second drowning at the lake this year. On Aug. 20, John K. Severt of Martinsburg, W.Va., drowned while having trouble while swimming, officials said.

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