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Social media stirs murky water waiting below dangerous dives

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NORTH SMITHFIELD, R.I. (WPRI) — Dozens of videos pulsing across the internet show young adrenaline junkies taking flight off everything from South County ocean cliffs – to rusted, abandoned quarry structures in Northern Rhode Island, despite local efforts to ground them.

Just last month, 19-year-old David Pinthiere, of Providence, drowned after jumping into the Slatersville Reservoir from a long-abandoned train trestle.

Cumberland Emergency Medical Technician Bob Shields, a certified rescue diver for about 16 years, found Pinthiere’s body at the bottom of the murky water.

“I think we were down there only like two minutes when we located the victim,” Shields said. “I got down on the bottom and put my hand on the victim right next to me. I didn’t know what I was feeling because I couldn’t see. Then I realized it was the victim. So, I held on to him and made the recovery.”

Pinthiere was the second drowning at the trestle site since 2011.

“That’s two too many,” North Smithfield rescue diver Norm Malboeuf said.

A quick scroll on YouTube will show you jaw-jarring jumping videos from spots in Burrillville, Jamestown, Block Island, Cumberland and many other locations.

“Oh, there’s hundreds of sites across the state,” Shields said, adding that he is often called to help other departments with search efforts. “There’s so many that we don’t even know about.”

We checked with Rhode Island State Police, the Department of Health, the Department of Environmental Management and local hospitals but no one keeps statistics on injuries or deaths from these various jumping launches.

The U.S. Department of Mine Safety and Health Administration has recorded a dozen deaths in Rhode Island in the past ten years from people jumping into quarries.

“When they’re under for too long of a period of time, it’s just not usually a good outcome. It goes from a rescue to a recovery.”

In many cases, places like the abandoned trestle in North Smithfield are private property and even patrolled.

North Smithfield Police Captain Tim Lafferty said modern technology is complicating efforts to enforce trespassing laws.

“We made arrests [at the trestle] many times,” Lafferty said. “But it seems that through social media that kids just continue to come here and jump off this trestle.”

Shields and Malboeuf acknowledge that danger is part of the attraction and definitely not a deterrent.

“People have died but that doesn’t deter kids from coming here,” Shields said. “We call them attractive nuisances – where here they’re attracted and something’s going to happen whether it’s good or bad.”

The two veteran rescue divers strapped waterproof cameras to their gear to give us an idea of why the jumps are dangers. One obvious issue near the trestle and in other spots is visibility.

As you go deeper, the water changes from a dark, murky red to pitch black.

“It’s like being in a dark room,” Shields said. “You can’t see your hand in front of your face. And with a flashlight we were able to see maybe a foot.”

So, from the perch above the water, the jumper may not see what’s only a few feet below the surface.

Old wooden pylons that used to hold up the bridge and granite footings that were also part of the structure are among the hazards.

“You penetrate the top of the water,” Malboeuf said. “And go to the bottom or hit something else. You’ll snap your neck. You’re going 10, 12 feet under before you come to the top. That’s where all the hazards are that you don’t see.”

Another problem is the old fishing line that’s too thin to see but hooked to the bottom and strong enough to hold you under.

“If it’s 50-pound test,” Malboeuf said. “You’ll never break that with your feet. And it just holds your feet together and you can’t kick to get back to the surface.”

Shields points out a sad fact about what he and other divers face on a rescue.

“When they’re under for too long of a period of time, it’s just not usually a good outcome. It goes from a rescue to a recovery.”Send tips to Target 12 Investigator Walt Buteau at wbuteau@wpri.com and follow him on Twitter@wbuteau

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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