Connecticut River Mishap Involves 3
Kayakers Joan Holcombe of Lebanon, N.H. (left) and Mark Cook of Bethel, Vt. bring their kayaks to Mark's truck after they and another kayaker, Dottie Dubey of Strafford, Vt., helped find one of three men who went missing in the Connecticut River on July 14, 2014. The three kayakers were about to start their weekly kayaking excursion at Sumner Falls when they heard about the search effort. The three paddled down the river calling out and eventually found one the the men on the shore. "It was scary because we didn't know what we were going to find," said Holcombe. "We're just so relieved," added Dubey. (Valley News - Ariana van den Akker) Purchase photo reprints »
Hartland — Emergency workers canvassed the Connecticut River Monday afternoon after police said an autistic man jumped from the rocks at Sumner Falls into the water and his two caretakers jumped in after him.
The three men were located at various points on the shoreline, Vermont State Police Trooper Stacy Corliss said near the scene.
David Bolash, 20, of Grafton, had been located around 4:30 p.m. on River Road in Plainfield, said Plainfield Police Chief Paul Roberts, after police responded to a call about a naked man “with a bewildered look on his face, like he was lost, out of place.”
He was transported to Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center for evaluation.
According to a news release, caretakers William Temple, of Post Mills, and Kevin Hebert, of Weare, N.H., were not seriously injured. Roberts said Bolash had visible bruises and cuts on his limbs.
According to Roberts and witness reports, one of the caretakers was located along River Road in Plainfield and the other was located slightly south of Sumner Falls in Hartland.
Corliss said Bolash, Temple and Hebert were alone on a fishing trip, part of a day program with behavioral services agency SD Associates LLC, when Bolash jumped into the water.
She said Temple and Hebert jumped in after him but were separated from him and pulled down the river by the strong current.
SD Associates, based in Williston, Vt., serves Vermont, parts of New Hampshire and western Massachusetts, according to its website. The agency also has an office in Windsor and a post office box in White River Junction, according to the site.
Officials at the agency could not be reached Monday evening.
Respondents included Vermont State Police, Hartland police and fire, Hartford swift water rescue, Plainfield police and fire, Cornish rescue and Windsor ambulance.
Roberts said when he and Officer William Heighes responded to the call about the young man, he could not identify himself or why he was there.
“There was a communications barrier at first when we first got there, and later we were told … that he had autism,” Roberts said. “Eventually we were able to build a bond of trust with him so we could get him covered up in a blanket” and get him transported to the hospital.
About an hour after the first call came in, Heighes was transporting Bolash to the hospital when he heard over the scanner that there was a search effort underway on the Connecticut River and that Bolash might be one of the people searchers were looking for.
Roberts said that the second caretaker was accounted for around 5:50 p.m.
Sumner Falls, the former site of a large lumber mill before a flood in 1856, is known as a favorite picnicking spot, as well as a whitewater rafting area with dangerous currents during the spring freshet and when dams upstream are releasing water.
It has been the site of at least four drowning deaths since 1987, including in 2001, when two men drowned after they were apparently thrown from their flat-bottomed aluminum boat while fishing.
Several kayakers said they attempted to aid the search when they heard it was in progress, calling out as they paddled down the river.
Dottie Dubey, of Strafford, Mark Cook, of Bethel, and Joan Holcombe, of Lebanon, said they eventually heard calls back from one of the caretakers needing to be rescued in Hartland.
They said they located the man on shore and as they went to go notify the official rescuers, the police motor boat was already on its way.
“It was scary because we didn’t know what we were going to find,” Holcombe said.
They said they visit the area to paddle around in their kayaks at Sumner Falls about once a week.
On Plainfield’s River Road, which hugs the Connecticut River, longtime resident Mable McGranaghan said she had heard someone yelling down the steep embankment behind her house while she was picking berries in her yard.
At first she didn’t think much of it, she said, as residents on the road “hear hollering all the time” when boaters are on the water, but then she heard someone yell “please help me.”
She said she got out her cellphone to call emergency personnel and went to her son Bill’s house nearby to get him to help. The pair said that they learned that Bolash had already been located farther down River Road earlier and that the person they heard screaming for help was one of the caretakers.
Valley News staff photographer Ariana van den Akker contributed to this report. Maggie Cassidy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-727-3220.