Police: Body found beneath Tarentum Bridge is jumper

Chuck Biedka
| Friday, Aug. 1, 2014, 11:15 a.m.

Searchers probing the Allegheny River on Friday afternoon found the body of Michael Swiklinski, a 43-year-old Freeport man who jumped from the Tarentum Bridge the evening before.

Swiklinski's family stood on the boat ramp, gathered arm in arm, waiting for the news they expected but didn't want to hear.

They had thanked rescue crews for their efforts throughout the day.

In the end, it was Swiklinski's daughter who spoke for the family.“He was a great guy and a great dad,” said Kaylah Moucheron, 23, of Harrison.

“I know he's in a better place now and not suffering.”

Divers located the body about 4:15 p.m. Tarentum police Sgt. Mark Glogowski confirmed Swiklinski's identity and said he had committed suicide.

Harrison police confirmed that Swiklinski had agreed on Thursday to talk with them about the fire that destroyed a mobile home and severely burned his ex-girlfriend, Tina Slomkoski, early Wednesday. Police said Swiklinski denied any involvement with the fire.

Slomkoski remains hospitalized in the burn unit of UPMC Mercy hospital in Pittsburgh. She sought a restraining order against Swiklinski after an incident on July 9 in which she had been thrown down, punched, spit on and bitten.

During the search, Tarentum's Eureka Fire and Rescue, Lower Kiski Emergency Medical Services and others used boat-mounted, side-searching sonar to methodically cover an area between the bridge's first and second piers.

The loop-like search was conducted near the area where eyewitnesses said they saw the man fall to the river.

Searchers were assisted by a specially trained dog handled by South Buffalo resident Pat Maloney.

At about 11:20 a.m., divers marked the spot with a large buoy.

Eureka fire Chief Rich Heuser said the channel is 30 feet deep or more in some places.

Previous searches revealed that the uneven bottom is strewn with a treacherous twist of trees, debris and cars. Pieces of steel rebar and sharp concrete chunks, dropped from the bridge, contributed to make it a diver's nightmare.

Divers worked in teams of three: a searcher, a diver to protect the searcher and a third diver as a “redundant but necessary back-up,'' Heuser said. “Safety first.”

The search continued through the afternoon with only a 20-minute break.

Divers and support crews from Lower Kiski, Lower Burrell, New Kensington, West Leechburg, Vandergrift and elsewhere worked side by side with the Murrysville special response dive team.

The river is known to have heavy silt and a muddy bottom, but divers said the bottom was relatively clear.

Strong currents slowed the search.

By 2:30 p.m., the dive teams were tiring but unwilling to stop.

More divers were summoned from Allegheny County's unit and the county's submersible camera, which was controlled from the boat.

At about 4:15 p.m., the new team of divers found the man's body.

It took two hours to plan the recovery and bring the body ashore.

Chuck Biedka is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4711 or cbiedka@tribweb.com. The Trib's Emily Balser contributed to this report.

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