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The relief experienced after two close calls at Burgess Pond in Westford earlier this summer, melted into despair on Aug. 7 when a teenage boy drowned in Merrill’s Quarry.
The death was another loss that has happened at quarries across the state for years. The spring-fed pits hide sharp ledge and other things that lurk beneath the surface of water, hundreds of feet deep. The expansive views and daring long jumps from rocks above lure teens and young adults to the sites to take the dangerous plunges.
The unidentified teen arrived at Merrill’s Quarry with three friends on Tuesday morning. When he emerged from his apparent long jump into the water, said Westford Police Capt. Ron Paulauskas, he was struggling. The friends said they swam out to help him but he flipped under and they lost him.
He was last seen at 11:45 a.m. The body was discovered by the search and rescue dive team of Nashua, New Hampshire at 1:15 p.m. that day. Also on the scene were Westford Police and Fire Department members, as well as public safety officials from Tyngsborough and Littleton.
Westford police did not identify the boy and could not confirm his age. But an Eagle Tribune news story said he was 16 from Lawrence.
Quarry owner George Merrill of Chelmsford has posted signs warning trespassers of the private property violation. To reach the quarry, the trespassers enter a path on Tyngsborough Road or from the Rita Miller School on Mitchell Way, and take a short hike up the hill. The path becomes a hindrance, Paulaskas said, when public safety officials are trying to save a life. The rutted road slows down the vehicles at the very moment when time is of the essence.
“It’s rough terrain,” he said.
Paulauskas noted that trespassing on private property can lead to a criminal charge.
“If they’re found at the quarry, they’re charged with trespassing and must appear at Ayer District Court,” he said. If the violators are under age 18, they are instructed to appear in juvenile court, he added.
Trespassing in Massachusetts is punishable by a fine of $100 or less, and up to 30 days in prison or both. Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan has taken over the case, but has not yet stated whether the boy’s three friends will be charged. A spokesman for Ryan said the case has been referred to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, between 2005 and 2014 — the most recent available numbers — there were “an average of 3,536 fatal unintentional drownings (non-boating related) annually in the United States.” That amounts to about ten deaths per day.
Risk factors include lack of swimming ability, lack of close supervision and alcohol use. Location is also a factor, according to the CDC. Younger children tend to drown in swimming pools while older children are more likely to drown in lakes, rivers and oceans. “More than half of fatal and nonfatal drownings among those 15 years and older occurred in natural water settings,” according to the CDC.
Burgess Pond Close Calls
It’s not clear what played a role in the two near drownings that occurred at Burgess Pond inside the wooded area known as East Boston Camps in Westford where a summer camp is operated.
According to Westford police, on the morning of July 3, a camp staffer was checking the zip line that runs across the pond when he saw a woman, man, and dog swimming across. When the woman reached the middle of the pond, she called out for help. The staffer rowed to her, and instructed her to grab onto the boat, while he rowed her to shore.
Two days later, in the afternoon police said a man was seen struggling to swim from one side of the pond to the other. A camp worker swam out and pulled the submerged man from the water. The man was transported to the hospital, conscious and breathing.
UPDATE — The story was modified to say the quarries are spring-fed.