Fourth of July weekend ended in tragedy in Milford when Nentor Dahn, 18, of Providence, RI died after jumping into the Fletcher Quarry. Fletcher is just one of many quarries in the area, and that got me wondering just how dangerous they are — and whether what happened in Milford is an all too common occurrence.
Go to YouTube and search Massachusetts quarry jump. You could easily spend an hour watching video after video of people — mainly young adults — hurling themselves off abandoned quarry cliffs into the water below.
"I think it’s typical youth behavior," said Leonard Campanello, chief of Police in Gloucester. "In a lot of cities and towns these types of bodies of water seem to be used by kids at the beginning of summer mostly, maybe as a right of passage, maybe as a place to cool off, that’s a little bit secluded, a place to go up to party where they’re out of view."
The most infamous area quarries are in Quincy, where between 1960 and 1998, at least a dozen people were killed.
Those quarries were filled in with 800,000 tons of dirt from the Big Dig in 2000, but there are plenty of others still brimming with water elsewhere in the state: Beckett out in the Berkshires, Rockport and Gloucester on Cape Anne, and of course Milford.
And there is one thing they all have in common- each is a tragedy waiting to happen.
Campanello says that at the quarries in Gloucester, they’ve seen it all in recent years.
"Broken bones, lacerations, head trauma resulting in death, massive trauma to the body that’s resulted in death — you name it," he said.
This time last year, a 26-year-old man drowned in Merrill Quarry in Westford. Westford Police Captain Victor Neal says the secluded nature of most quarries isn’t just a draw for youngsters, it’s also challenge for police.
"I’m sure there’s some up there right now swimming," Neal said. "It’s just, if we get a call, we’ll go up there, but it’s not something we routinely patrol because it’s difficult to take an officer off the road."
And it’s not just a local issue.
"This is not a problem just on the East Coast, it’s all over the country," said Amy Louviere of the U.S. Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA). "I mean, we have mines and quarries in every state in this country, and, in fact, in a little over the last month, there have been at least five quarry drownings around the country."
According to MSHA, dozens of deaths occur each year at abandoned mines and quarries. Most casualties are young men. Since 1999, MSHA's been working to raise awareness among youngsters about the dangers of abandoned quarries, which Louviere says are more varied than you might think.
"Quarries are deceptively dangerous," Louviere said. "The cliffs people like to jump off can be unstable. The water is extremely dense and very deep. You don’t realize there are dangers hidden under the surface of the water. The water tends to be extremely cold and even experienced swimmers can develop cramping and lose control in the middle of a quarry because of the temperatures."
But in the end, constructing gates, patrolling the area, and raising awareness can only do so much. As Campanello points out, officials are battling a powerful force of nature: Youth.
"You’re protected by that youth, that ignorance, for lack of a better word, that superhuman feeling that nothing bad is gonna happen," he said. "And so the risk, so while I’m sure it’s apparent to them, is far outweighed by the thrill of taking that leap."
A reminder that what happened this week in Milford is not an isolated incident. And Nentor Dahn is not likely to be the last young area resident whose life ends, or changes forever, at the bottom of a quarry.