One of the rafters had to be pulled from the water by bystanders using a rope.
By HAROLD GWIN
VINDICATOR SHARON BUREAU
SHARON, Pa. -- Authorities said four men narrowly escaped tragedy when they rode inflated vinyl rafts over the low-head dam on the Shenango River behind the Consumers Pennsylvania Water Co. plant on North Water Avenue.
Both rafts overturned around 3:15 p.m. Tuesday, throwing all four people into the water, firefighters said.
Three people made it to shore on their own but the fourth, Justin D. Ulan, 21, of Market Street, Mercer, had to be rescued by bystanders who threw him a rope, firefighters said.
Police charged Ulan with reckless operation of a watercraft and disorderly conduct and released him.
His three companions, young men in their early 20s from Hermitage and Masury who left the scene before authorities arrived, will be charged with the same counts, police said.
The low-head dam, which creates a waterfall of only about 18 inches, has been described as a "drowning machine" by authorities, and this particular dam has claimed a number of lives in the past.
The water going over the dam causes a churning circular effect that pulls a victim under water, authorities said.
Ulan told The Vindicator that he and his friends put into the river at High Street in Sharpsville and then floated downstream through Sharpsville, Hermitage and into Sharon with the intent of pulling out at Quaker Steak & amp; Lube below the Connelly Boulevard bridge.
Ulan said he didn't know about the dam before the trip but did see some warning signs upstream. He said his companions were aware of the dam, and both rafts tried to get over it along the west shoreline behind the water plant.
But the rafts overturned, throwing everyone into the water, he said.
The others made it to shore on their own, but Ulan said he stayed with his raft until bystanders were able to get a rope and throw it to him.
He abandoned his raft and was pulled to shore. His raft was left caught in the dam's backcurrent in the middle of the river.