Hi 20° | Lo 6°

Police: Student Who Drowned Was Aiming for Shallow Water

The rope swing that Ernest Amoh, of Ghana, used to jump into the water where he drowned has not been cut down at Patchen’s Point in Norwich. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap)

The rope swing that Ernest Amoh, of Ghana, used to jump into the water where he drowned has not been cut down at Patchen’s Point in Norwich. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »

Hanover — The 20-year-old college student from Ghana who drowned in the Connecticut River during a Dartmouth senior week party earlier this month couldn’t swim and was trying to land in shallow water when he used a rope swing on the Norwich riverbank, according to a Hanover police report of the incident.

Ernest Amoh, who had just finished his freshman year at Trinity University in Texas, was in Hanover to celebrate the pending graduation of his older brother, Justice, from Dartmouth College. The brothers had taken a canoe with some of Justice’s friends to Patchen’s Point in Norwich during a June 5 party on the waterfront at the Chieftain Motor Inn in Hanover, the report said.

Everyone in the group, except Ernest Amoh, had taken turns on the rope swing when they realized other students had taken the canoe back toward Hanover.

Because Ernest Amoh couldn’t swim, Justice told police, the brothers remained at Patchen’s Point while the other group members swam toward the Chieftain to claim a new canoe and retrieve the stranded brothers.

While they waited, Ernest Amoh said he wanted to try out the trapeze rope swing. Justice Amoh “stated that he told his brother it was a bad idea, but that his brother said he would just land in the shallow area,” according to a narrative by Hanover Police Officer Nenia Corcoran. After his brother landed in the water, Justice Amoh said he saw Ernest’s “hands come back above the water, but then he disappeared,” the report said.

The names of the brothers, along with other witnesses, are redacted in the report, but police have previously identified Ernest Amoh as the drowning victim.

Justice Amoh “began to scream that his brother couldn’t swim” as other students then started to search for the missing man, police said. Justice Amoh also went into the river in search of his brother, and later was treated for shock at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center.

Two on-duty lifeguards — Hanover-area teens hired for the party by the Dartmouth 2013 Class Council — swam across the river to the Vermont side to assist with the search. Neither had seen Ernest Amoh enter the water, and arrived at least 10 minutes after he disappeared, the report said. They conducted a “basic life guard search,” holding hands and searching the river bottom with their feet, the report said.

Ernest Amoh’s body was found the next morning near where he disappeared, in about 18 feet of water, some 25 feet from the Vermont riverbank, police said.

The brothers were among 300 students and friends attending Riverfest, an end-of-the-year celebration scheduled from 1 to 8 p.m. at the Chieftain for Dartmouth seniors, which included barbecue and seven kegs of beer, according to the report.

Justice Amoh told police that he did not drink and his brother had not consumed any alcohol that day either, leading officials to conclude that alcohol was not involved in the drowning, though a toxicology test will be performed by the New Hampshire Medical Examiner’s Office.

“We still don’t have any concerns that he was drinking at the event,” Hanover Acting Police Chief Frank Moran said yesterday.

No autopsy is planned, he said, and the police report indicates authorities did not observe any injury to Ernest Amoh’s body.

The Amoh brothers had arrived at the party at the Chieftain after boarding a shuttle bus on the Dartmouth campus around 4 p.m.

Dartmouth spokesman Justin Anderson yesterday said the 2013 Class Council, the event’s sponsor, hired two Dartmouth students to check attendees’ identification cards before they boarded the shuttle buses, marking a black X on the hands of any students or guests who were under the legal drinking age of 21. Admission to Riverfest was $5, and all attendees who paid the admission fee received a blue bracelet.

Justice Amoh showed his Dartmouth ID card to a student at the bus stop and was given a blue wristband. Ernest Amoh offered his driver’s license, which Justice told police was not a fake ID, and was also given a blue wristband but no black X, even though his ID indicated he was under 21 years old, according to the police report.

Once the students arrived at the Chieftain, innkeeper Jennifer Barton cut the blue bracelets off the wrists of students and guests with a black X on their hand. Anderson, the Dartmouth spokesman, said removing the bracelets was in place to ensure that underage students couldn’t get drinks from the bar.

Riverfest is an annual senior week event sponsored by the Dartmouth Class Council, which is funded through various sources, including class dues and student activity fees which Dartmouth collects with tuition and related payments. Although the college has employees who serve as advisers to the Class Council, and help organize events including Riverfest, Anderson said students manage Class Council funding.

“These funds are provided by, managed by and used by Dartmouth students for student events,” he said last night.

Barton initially told police she felt “misled” in that she believed Dartmouth employees, not students, would be checking IDs, and that the college itself was sponsoring the event, but declined further comment yesterday.

Moran said police are not contemplating any charges in the drowning and the investigation has been closed.

“Could the Riverfest been better managed or better handled? I’m sure it could have been,” Moran said. “But it ultimately didn’t have anything to do with the incident.”

Katie Mettler can be reached at 603-727-3234 or kmettler@vnews.com.