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Fish kill linked to sunken pickup truck

July 09, 2009|By MARLO BARNHART

HANCOCK -- A spokeswoman for the Maryland Department of the Environment said Thursday afternoon a submerged pickup truck was pulled from Licking Creek on June 29, a day before the discovery of a fish kill near Slabtown Road.

"This is circumstantial evidence, but it is probable that the fish kill was associated with this event, i.e. leaking gasoline," MDE spokeswoman Dawn Stoltzfus wrote in an e-mail Thursday.

Maryland State Police Sgt. S.D. Wallace said her agency got involved in the incident June 1 when Joshua D. Burtner, 19, of 1543 Broadfording Road in Clear Spring, reported his pickup truck stolen.

"On June 4, we got a tip that the truck was in Licking Creek," Wallace said.

Because of recent rains, the truck was fully submerged and not readily visible, she said.

Burtner went to the creek when the truck was discovered and admitted to police it hadn't been stolen, Wallace said.

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"He said he decided to drive into the creek instead of using the bridge to impress his friends," Wallace said.

When it became stuck in 4 feet of water, Burtner left it there, Wallace said.

She said state police notified MDE about the pickup truck June 4 through 911 dispatchers in Hagerstown.

She later received a message that MDE wouldn't be responding to the incident because they were told there was only a quarter of a tank of gas in the truck, Wallace said.

The truck remained in the Creek for 25 days after its discovery, until Burtner was able to remove it.

"I wasn't aware of the June 4 notification," Stoltzfus said by telephone Thursday. "And we are only speculating that this was the cause of the fish kill."

In an e-mail received at 4 p.m. Thursday, Stoltzfus said "MDE's enforcement and compliance staff is investigating the situation."

The fish kill claimed about 150 fish, MDE officials said Tuesday morning.

Stoltzfus said agency officials went out last week to check the area and found dead fish concentrated around the Slabtown Road crossing west of the Indian Springs Wildlife Management Area.

Among the dead fish were suckers, sunfish, darters, dace and some smallmouth bass, Stoltzfus said.

She said MDE staff initially inspected a nearby farm, but ruled out the farm as the cause of the fish kill. There was no mention Tuesday of the previous notification to MDE about the pickup truck in the creek.

"At this point, we've pretty much ruled out any major source and believe the fish kill may have occurred due to a minor introduction or spill of something," Stoltzfus said Tuesday.

The possible spillage, which might have happened at the Slabtown Road crossing, diluted quickly, Stoltzfus added.

"Overall, it was a fairly minor event, but we are continuing to investigate," she said Tuesday.

Burtner was served with a criminal summons July 3 charging him with making a false report of a stolen vehicle, according to records in Washington County District Court.

Maximum penalties for a conviction are six months in jail and/or a $500 fine.

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