15:13 Dangerous low-head dam at site of 1987 rescue attempt to be removed

dangerous dam
Rescue workers get ready to search the swift water at Urich dam for the bodies of three people who died there.
dangerous dam
Richard Jon Starkey
dangerous dam
Harold M. Starkey

An Ohio low-head dam responsible for numerous deaths, including two Carnegie heroes, will be removed as early as next year.

According to the Times Reporter, the Twin City Water and Sewer District — the water utility company in Dennison and Uhrichsville, Ohio — awarded a contract to RiverReach Construction of Norton, Ohio, to remove a dam that spans Big Stillwater Creek.

The paper cites numerous drownings near the Uhrichsville dam, including the death of three people in 1987, when Carnegie heroes Harold M. Starkey and his nephew, Richard Jon Starkey also drowned there.

Three young teenage boys, who were reportedly good swimmers, were intending to swim in a natural pool upstream from the dam.

Two days of heavy rain had swollen the river to a point about 4 feet above its normal summer level.

Current was swift going over the dam, and a rolling boil was at its base.

As the boys made their way to the water’s edge, its force dissuaded them, according to the report filed by Hero Fund investigator James Rethi, Jr.

One boy, 13, slipped, and his brother, 15, grabbed him. As he helped him back to the bank, the 15-year-old slipped into the water.

At the same time, their cousin, 14, lost his grip on a branch over-hanging the river and also entered the water.

Both boys were washed over the dam, the cousin repeatedly submerging and surfacing in the boil.

The brothers called for help and the Starkey men responded — Harold Starkey from his nearby home and Richard Starkey from an auto parts shop about 200 feet away.

According to Harold Starkey’s wife, Janice, Harold Starkey had rescued other people from the creek near the dam over the years, and then-Uhrichsville Fire Chief Jim Golec reported that once Harold Starkey had to be restrained from attempting to rescue a drowning dog there.

Both men entered the creek and waded and swam to the boys struggling in the water.

The 15-year-old screamed at them to save his cousin who had by then failed to resurfaced from the boil.

As the men swam to a point about 10 feet from the 15-year-old, they were swept into the boil, submerged, and also failed to resurface. They drowned.

Others helped the 15-year-old from the water; Rethi reported that his shorts had been pulled off by the rough water.

Harold Starkey left behind his wife, five grown children, and seven grandchildren.

Richard Starkey was survived by his parents, Robert and Theoda Starkey.

Harold and Richard Starkey were posthumously awarded the Carnegie Medal in December 1987.

“I could never put into words how very much this has meant to me and my family receiving the Carnegie Hero award in honor of my late husband Harold. He was a very special person to so many people,” Janice Starkey wrote to the Commission in 1988.

dangerous dam
The Uhrichsville dam that spans Big Stillwater Creek will be removed. It is the site of numerous drownings including two Carnegie heroes Harold M. Starkey and Richard Jon Starkey who both drowned in 1987 while attempting to save two teenage boys. This photo was taken by Hero Fund investigator James Rethi, Jr., while he was in Uhrichsville investigating the heroic acts of the Starkey men.

According to the Times Reporter article, removing low-head dams has become a statewide trend.

“Low-head dams pose a safety hazard for use of the river,” RiverReach project manager Patrick Rohr told the newspaper.

Rohr added that the company is hoping for a 2020 removal, but that “it’s way too early to have a timeline.”

The project is being paid for by a $615,000 grant from the Environmental Protection Agency.

Dennison Water Supply Co. built the dam in 1904 to store about 160 million gallons of water for the utility’s water treatment plant, which closed in 2013, at which point the dam was no longer needed.

According to the Times Reporter, the Ohio EPA recommended removal of the dam in a 2012 study of the Stillwater Creek basin.

“The dam has caused drownings and remains a hazard for boating and recreational opportunities,” the report said.

Jewels Phraner, outreach coordinator

15:13 calls to mind those in the Hero Fund’s 115-year history whose lives were sacrificed in the performance of their heroic acts. The name identifies the chapter and verse of the Gospel of John that appears on every medal: “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” Of the 10,135 medal awardees to date, 2,060, or 20 percent of the total, were recognized posthumously. They are not forgotten.

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