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Storms may have contributed to Beaver County teen's drowning

| Monday, June 21, 2010

The section of the Beaver River near the Fallston Bridge where a Beaver County teenager drowned Saturday night might have been affected by rainstorms that afternoon, New Brighton police said yesterday.

The water had passed through a dam about a half-mile away.

The body of 16-year-old Joseph Cleckley was recovered about 8:45 p.m. Saturday. Police said he was swimming with three other teens in the Beaver River on Saturday evening when he disappeared in the water. Emergency crews found his body about 100 yards upriver from the Fallston Bridge.

"We do in the summer get some calls about kids jumping off the Fallston Bridge," New Brighton police officer Brian Speer said. "But I don't recall any injuries in that area."

It is unclear whether Cleckley jumped from the bridge or waded into the river.

Sgt. Ron Walton said authorities have answered many calls at the spot over the years and people swim in the river near the bridge "against their better judgment." He and Capt. Gary Knight of the New Brighton Fire Department said storms that afternoon had made the water murkier but do not seem to have increased the current.

Police said Cleckley had been living in New Brighton with an aunt who was his legal guardian.

"He had his ups and downs, but he was turning out to be a good young man," said Cleckley's uncle, Martin Cleckley of New Brighton.

Even if Saturday's storms did not speed up the flow where Cleckley and his companions were swimming, rivers commonly have dangerous undercurrents that can suck swimmers in, said Lt. Brian Sattler of the Coast Guard's New Orleans sector, which oversees the Mississippi River and other waterways.

"Rivers are a unique beast in that they may appear calm and tranquil on the surface, but you never know what's going on underneath," Sattler said.

The buoyant force of a life jacket can often keep swimmers from being drawn into undercurrents, Sattler said. And the American Red Cross recommends swimming lessons and swimming where a lifeguard is present whenever possible, said Brian Knavish, spokesman for the organization's Southwestern Pennsylvania chapter.

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