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Missing swimmer presumed drowned

Missing swimmer presumed drowned

July 21, 2006|by PEPPER BALLARD

DOWNSVILLE - Family and friends of a 19-year-old Hagerstown man who presumably drowned Wednesday night gathered somberly on the Maryland banks of the Potomac River on Thursday, watching as five boats slowly circled the murky green waters off Big Slackwater searching for his body.

The man's family and friends wandered with glum faces between the foliage blocking the banks and their cars, and under police tape that cordoned off the recovery effort from the media.

Family members ended their vigil at about 7:30 p.m., after search members had called off the effort for the night. The apparent victim's parents headed home.

"They have two other boys. They went home to be with their family," said Burt Maggio, family spokesman.

The missing man is the oldest of three sons, Maggio said.

"The family just wants to locate their son and get that aspect of the grieving period started," Maggio said Thursday afternoon.

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The search will continue this morning.

Crews began arriving at 8 a.m. Thursday at the Big Slackwater ramp off Dam No. 4 Road, south of Downsville. They searched until dusk, focusing on an area of the water between the Maryland and West Virginia banks of the Potomac River where three dogs indicated they picked up the scent of a dead body.

The 19-year-old man and two others intended to swim from the Maryland banks off Big Slackwater to the West Virginia banks at about 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Natural Resources Police Spokesman Sgt. Ken Turner said. But when the others - a young man and young woman - made it to the other side, they discovered their friend didn't make it, Turner said.

Search members navigated two Natural Resources Police Boston Whaler boats in short and speedy bursts, but mostly glided, circling the same murky green waters they circled hours before.

Divers from Berkeley and Jefferson counties in West Virginia dove from three inflatable boats and resurfaced time and time again. An officer on each police boat viewed black-and-white sonar images that were fed to them from devices dropped below the surface that were scanning for a man's shadow.

Groups of the man's friends and family banned themselves and the press from the banks at about 3 p.m. at the request of the man's father after the first cadaver dog, whose handler brought splashes of water to his snout, indicated he smelled something.

Maggio, the family spokesman, is owner of Asphalt Concrete Services Inc. in Glenwood, Md. The missing man's father works there as superintendent in charge of asphalt and concrete field operations.

About 10 workers went to Big Slackwater on Thursday to support their co-worker, a valued and admired employee, Maggio said. At one point, Maggio counted 24 relatives - cousins, aunts and grandparents, among others, at the site, he said.

"This family is exceptionally tight," Maggio said. "Their whole lives revolved around their three boys."

Maggio said that the missing man just got his electrician's license and admired his father, who is a "race car aficionado" and "is very good with his hands."

"When (the missing man) got his license, it was a huge moment in his dad's life," Maggio said.

National Park Service rangers stood guard behind police tape about 300 feet from the ramp. They raised the tape when fire and rescue vehicles, search vehicles and family wanted to get inside.

"The rescue effort has been very fluent, very diligent," Maggio said.

Staff writer Erin Julius contributed to this story.

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