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Friends, family say Harmison loved life

July 31, 2006|by KAREN HANNA

HEDGESVILLE, W.VA. - A Hedgesville man who drowned in a quarry in Jefferson County, W.Va., over the weekend enjoyed spending time with his son and nieces, family members and friends said Sunday.

If he were alive, Thomas C. Harmison, 21, could find a way to cheer up the friends he has left behind, they said.

"Thomas. Thomas is one in a million. There will never be another like him. He could keep a smile on anybody's face, no matter what the circumstances were," said friend Krystle Siviero, 20, of Falling Waters, W.Va.

The father of a 5-year-old boy, Harmison died Saturday after jumping from a rock ledge into water at a quarry near Harpers Ferry, W.Va.

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According to Siviero's brother, Gene Lemen, 25, of Falling Waters, Harmison dove into the pure-blue waters on a whim. Lemen said he, Harmison, Siviero and two friends hiked to the quarry to look at it. They planned to jump Sunday.

While Siviero and one of the friends stopped below the cliff, Lemen said he, Harmison and the other friend continued to the top of the quarry - a cliff about 75 feet above the water, he said.

"He just turned around, walked backward, and he said, 'I'm doing it, guys,' and he jumped, and we never saw him again," Lemen said.

Harmison loved life, and he was a risk-taker, his friends said.

He had "tons of friends," Siviero said.

"Say, if you were in another state, he'd know somebody, or if he didn't, he'd talk to somebody, and they'd be friends for life," she said.

Aron, Harmison's son, said his father taught him how to ride a two-wheeled bicycle and play defense in basketball.

He also loved to fish and play with his nieces, said brother-in-law Scott Welty, of Martinsburg, W.Va.

"He was always the life of the party-type person, I guess you could say. Always joking and laughing, that was him," Welty said.

A Jefferson County Emergency Services dispatcher said the quarry is part of an old mine. The property near Harpers Ferry is posted against trespassing and has locked gates preventing vehicles from getting in, The Herald-Mail has reported.

According to figures compiled by the U.S. Department of Labor's Mine Safety and Health Administration, at least 17 nonmining employees have died on mine property this year. Several other people experienced what the administration labels "near misses." The administration's Web site indicates most of the mining fatalities were drownings.

Water in old quarries can conceal rocks, abandoned machinery and other hazards, and it can be "deceptively deep and dangerously cold," the Web site states.

"Steep, slippery walls make exiting these swimming holes extremely difficult," the Web site states.

Harmison would have some advice for the friends who mourn him now, Lemen said.

"He would have been like, 'Don't stop. Just keep on doing what you're doing. Don't be sad for me,' that's exactly what he'd say," Lemen said.

Harmison and his friends had jumped at other quarries, but they had never before been to the one near Harpers Ferry, Lemen said.

Lemen said he won't do it again.

"I'll never go back to another one again, I'll tell you that much," he said.

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