All Safe After River Mishap

From left: Mickey Wirasnik, of Hartland, Vt., Ryan Powden, of Jacksonville, Fla. and Matt Bing, of Hartland, pack up their gear after fishing at Sumner Falls in Hartland on July 15, 2014.  (Valley News - Ariana van den Akker)

From left: Mickey Wirasnik, of Hartland, Vt., Ryan Powden, of Jacksonville, Fla. and Matt Bing, of Hartland, pack up their gear after fishing at Sumner Falls in Hartland on July 15, 2014. (Valley News - Ariana van den Akker) Purchase photo reprints »

Hartland — A Grafton man with special needs is safe and has been released from the hospital after numerous police agencies responded to Sumner Falls on Monday for a man who had left his caretakers and entered the water.

David Bolash, 20, who police said is autistic, was treated and released from Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center on Monday night, according to hospital officials. Police said Bolash and his two caretakers, William Temple, 48, of Post Mills, Vt., and Kevin Hebert, 29, of Weare, N.H., had gone to Sumner Falls to fish for the afternoon. Police said in a news release that Bolash “jumped into the water and the brisk current started to carry him downriver.”

Bolash was on an outing with caretakers from behavioral services agency SD Associates LLC. David Powsner, CEO and clinical director of SD Associates LLC, said Bolash did not jump from the rocks, but was instead wading from the water’s edge and refused to get out of the water upon the caretakers’ request. Powsner said Bolash is a good swimmer and swam downstream.

The two caretakers went into the water after Bolash, and state police said they were all last seen moving down river in the water. All three were eventually located at various points along the shore, according to Vermont State Police Trooper Stacy Corliss.

Powsner said that Temple and Hebert escaped unharmed.

Plainfield Police Chief Paul Roberts said Monday that Bolash had visible bruises and cuts on his limbs, but Powsner said the cuts and bruises weren’t from this incident and said Bolash was “unharmed.”

“They were just upset that they weren’t able to prevent him (from going down the river), but they were very responsible and they went after him,” Powsner said.

It is common to send two staff members with a client on a community outing, Powsner said. One of the caretakers was able to call their supervisor, who is the director for SD Associates for southern Vermont and New Hampshire, who responded to the scene.

SD Associates LLC is a private company that contracts with school districts and other agencies to provide services, Powsner said. The company has a treatment facility in Williston, Vt., and has locations in Vermont and Massachusetts, including Windsor.

The company provides local recreational opportunities, Powsner said, and each client has a list of close recreational spots where they are allowed to go with parental approval.

A client must be “water safe” in order to visit areas near water, meaning that they know how to swim, Powsner said . Usually when clients are taken to a swimming spot with plans to swim, it is a place where there is a lifeguard present, Powsner said.

The three men were not wearing life jackets, Powsner said, but added that they went to Sumner Falls to fish and did not have plans to go swimming.

“People can be unpredictable,” Powsner said. “There is no way that any program can predict 100 percent that nothing will ever happen. Fortunately, nobody got hurt.”

Powsner said the case will be handled as an “internal personnel management issue.” But he also called Temple and Hebert “heroes” because they entered the water after Bolash and called for “back up.”

Bolash’s family, reached at home in Grafton Tuesday, declined to comment.

Sumner Falls and its bedrock outcroppings belong to the town of Hartland, which was given the land a few years ago by TransCanada. Long popular as a picnic spot, the town regards it as a recreational amenity.

“It’s a beautiful spot, with a nice little beach area. It’s got great access to the river, a lot of boaters and kayakers. It’s just a nice place to be,” said Hartland Town Manager Bob Stacey. “We’re pretty lucky to have it.”

TransCanada retains flowage rights on the river, meaning it can’t be held liable as water levels rise or fall from operation of the Wilder Dam, and warning signs from the company about water levels are also in place, Stacey said.

He said the area is open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., with a posted sign about rules at the site.

The town doesn’t prohibit swimming from the rocks, and Stacey said, “Common sense is what we rely on.”

He said the mishap on Monday was “just one of those isolated incidents.”

The currents there, however, have proven treacherous in the past. Four people have drowned there since 1987.

John P. Gregg also contributed to this report. Sarah Brubeck can be reached at sbrubeck@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.