Authorities tight-lipped about Flume drownings

WILMINGTON – Twelve days after two Plattsburgh teens drowned at the Flume waterfall, authorities are still saying little about what happened leading up to the deaths.

“It’s still under investigation,” state police Troop B spokeswoman Jennifer Fleishman said. “I can’t answer those questions right now.”

Meanwhile, people are still swimming at the Flume and jumping from the cliffs into the frothy pools below. On a recent sunny day, the Enterprise asked at least four people on the shore if they knew about the deaths; none did.

Fleishman said state police have conducted interviews with the other teenagers who were at the West Branch of the AuSable River on June 26 with Taoufik Maknani and Michael Lawson, 17-year-old Plattsburgh High School students who drowned there that day. Maknani was supposed to graduate from PHS two days later. An autopsy of both bodies determined their deaths resulted from drowning. The river was running especially high that day due to prior rainfall.

No officials have said what the teens were doing – whether, for instance, they were jumping or diving from the Flume’s cliffs into the pools below. State forest ranger Capt. John Streiff has said they were all teenagers, all from Plattsburgh. State police didn’t go that far, saying only that it was a small group.

Fleishman said state police expect to release more details in the near future.

The Enterprise attempted to obtain 911 emergency calls made during the afternoon on June 26, but Essex County law prohibits it. New York lets counties set their own guidelines for releasing 911 calls.

“Unfortunately, your request must be denied under the statutory exemption rule set forth in Pub Off [state Public Officers Law],” county Attorney Dan Manning wrote by email.

County Law Section 308(4) “precludes the dissemination of 911 recordings or transcripts except to a municipal public safety agencies, another government agency, or medical, ambulance or emergency services organizations, and prohibits use for anything other than emergency services,” Manning said.

Many people in Wilmington believe the Flume is dangerous to swim at, but there are no signs posted there to warn people. Neither are there signs at Split Rock Falls near New Russia, where four young men died in two separate accidents: three in 2003 and one in 2006. The Enterprise asked David Winchell, spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Conservation Region 5, to explain the department’s policy of signing potentially dangerous places on the river.

“All outdoor recreation activities have some inherent risk,” Winchell said. “People must be responsible for making their own decisions based on the relative degree of risk involved and their abilities. DEC can not sign every possible danger on 2.7 million acres of Adirondack Forest Preserve.”

Town of Wilmington Supervisor Randy Preston agreed with that.

“It comes back to, you have to take responsibility for your actions,” Preston said. “There is no way to protect the public from every danger that is out there. You can’t protect from everything. Somewhere along the line, there is personal responsibility that comes in to play. It’s just a tragic situation that something like that happened.”

Preston added that there have been injuries at the Flume about every year. Streiff had said this was the first fatal accident at the Flume, in recent memory, as far as he knew.