Drowning at the Rock
26-year-old man drowns in Schuylkill River near popular swimming area
Essam Saba, 26, Allentown, drowned at the Rock on July 24.
“A 26-year-old did not make it across. Four guys realized he was under and tried to get him up. But it was too late. CPR was administered on site by bystanders,” reported Hamburg photographer Neven Dries after returning from the scene. “After something like this happened, all these people stayed and kept swimming and jumping like nothing happened. I arrived after the man had been taken away by emergency crews.”
According to state police, Saba attempted to swim across the Schuylkill River by entering the water at a nearby beach. As he attempted to swim across, he began to struggle and ultimately drowned. Emergency crews responded to the call at 1:50 p.m. Assisting at the scene were Tilden Twp. Police, Schuylkill Haven State Police, Hamburg and Shoemakersville Fire departments, Schuylkill County Dive Team, and Northern Berks Fire Police. The investigation is ongoing. According to Berks County Chief Deputy Coroner Frank Pilat, Saba was pronounced dead at 2:56 p.m. at Penn State Health St. Joseph Hospital. Pilat said cause
of death appears to be an accidental drowning but they are holding off on a cause of death and manner of death until toxicology results are received and the final autopsy results are received, which could take a few weeks.
“Also, I was told by fire police on the scene, another lady hit her head after jumping off the dam. She was pulled out and survived. She refused treatment,” reported Dries.
Dries said there were cars blocking entry for emergency crews.
“They could not get back to the last parking area. There was nowhere to get the trucks back.”
Swimming and jumping continued.
“Emergency crews tried to disperse everyone at the scene. Most left for a bit then came back by the carloads as police and emergency crews were gone,” said Dries.
Route 61 and Port Clinton Avenue were blocked by traffic as the crowds left the area but many still remained to swim and jump off the Rock.
Tilden Township Police Chief William J. McEllroy III spoke about some of the safety concerns regarding swimming and jumping at the Rock and Kernsville Dam and responded to some of the comments made on social media.
“We want people to be safe. We don’t want things like this happening,” said McEllroy. “Safety is definitely a top concern. People need to know that it’s swim at your own risk. They need to be aware of the strong current there. If they are not a competent swimmer they should not go into the water.”
Regarding alcoholic consumption, McEllroy said that there is no law prohibiting alcohol at the Kernsville Dam Recreation Area.
“It is obviously unsafe to consume alcohol and then go swimming,” said McEllroy.
Regarding shutting down access to the Rock, McEllroy explained that the Department of Environmental Protection owns the Kernsville Dam Recreation Area which includes the Rock. The property is open to the public. No trespassing signs are not posted.
“DEP needs to step up and start taking responsibility for their property; otherwise we’re not going to come to a positive solution,” said McEllroy. “We as a police department are just as frustrated. We have no authority to shut it down.”
Rep. Jerry Knowles has organized a meeting to discuss the Rock with Tilden Township officials, police, the Fish and Boat Commission and the Blue Mountain Wildlife Inc. The meeting, to be held on July 29 at 10:30 a.m. at the Tilden Township Building, is closed to the public.
Comments on Facebook included blowing up the rock and asking why the meeting is closed to the public.
Eddie Miller posted, “Well my philosophy on it as a local is out of the hundreds of people that visit the Rock daily, and the thousands that visit it every summer. For one or two people who drown there every year, it should be blown up. I mean blow up cars too while your at it. Look how many people get killed in them every year. It’s public land, they can’t stop people from going in there. You’re always going to have bad people in the group who ruin it for everyone. But don’t take away the spot for the people that grew up in Hamburg and have been going there for years, who respect the property.”
Angela Rothermel posted, “This is absolutely ridiculous. I read there were over 500 people up there today when this happened. This is not a tourist attraction. It’s sad something so beautiful is going to be taken away from us who grew up with it. Because other people don’t know how to respect “THE ROCK”.”
Daniel Wert posted: “Dad drove by there at 1ish and said close to 1,000 people and cars blocking traffic. Use to be only a few people there, now everyone from everywhere goes. Traffic is a hazard, glass on ground is a hazard, and that’s before you even get to the Rock itself which is a hazard.”
Chris Gordon posted, “Time to blow the rock up. Situation is out of control. Dangerous to drive in the area, dangerous for first responders trying to help, dangerous for the idiots diving off the Rock. How many people have to die?”
Jumpers on Sunday afternoon at the Rock on the Schuylkill River in Tilden Township.
Jumping off the Rock into the Schuylkill River in Tilden Township on Sunday.
Fire police were on the scene, responding to a woman who hit her head after jumping off the dam. She was pulled out and survived. She refused treatment.