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Allegheny

Family of kayaker swept over Dashields Dam sues U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

Bob Bauder
| Tuesday, July 17, 2018, 4:33 p.m.

The parents of a West View woman who drowned in 2017 with a friend after their kayaks were swept over the Dashields Dam in Crescent have filed a federal wrongful death lawsuit against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers contending the Corps failed to provide adequate warning to boaters approaching the dam.

Amber L. and Jack E. Evans allege in the lawsuit that the Corps was aware that multiple people have drowned over the years at Dashields, yet failed to provide sufficient safety measures to prevent their daughter, Brittany, from drowning in the Ohio River. They joined Kathleen and Bruce Brandy of Ambridge who made the same allegations in a federal lawsuit they filed against the Corps in February over the death of their daughter.

Brittany Evans and Helene Brandy of Coraopolis, both 25, drowned on May 20, 2017.

“These dams are invisible,” said Downtown attorney John P. Gismondi, who represents the Evans family. “You can’t see them if you’re on the water. The warning signs do not match the extent of the danger. They’re not big enough; their aren’t enough of them, and they’re not in the right places.”

The lawsuit allege that the Corps was guilty of “ordinary and gross negligence” for failing to post necessary warning devices such as signs, buoys, audible signals and navigational devices. It seeks more than $75,000 in damages.

A spokesman for the the Corps Pittsburgh Division declined comment on the lawsuit, but noted the Corps conducted a “water safety summit” to gather public input on safety enhancements at the dam following the tragedy. The Corps has added warning buoys and signs, but said new boaters to should complete training on navigating Pennsylvania waterways and become familiar with operating their watercraft before using it.

“If we focus on physical components, and that’s the only thing we look at, we’re not going to do what we need to do to reduce the risk of injury and death to people who use the rivers,” said Jeff Hawk. “There is individual responsibility that plays a big part in keeping people safe on the rivers.”

Dashields is classified as a “fixed crest dam,” which means most of it is underwater. It is invisible for boaters traveling down river. The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission has described such dams as “true drowning machines.”

Water running over them creates powerful, churning currents known as “boil” that are extremely difficult to escape.

“If you go over the dam, the chances are you’re going to drown,” Gismondi said.

Crescent firefighters told the Tribune-Review last year that 27 people had drowned at the dam over 49 years.

Since 1960, 400 people have drowned at fixed crest dams in the United States, according to the lawsuit.

Beaver County Attorney Richard Urick, one of the attorney’s representing the Brandy famly, said the judge could eventually decide to merge the two lawsuits.

Bob Bauder is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Bob at 412-765-2312, bbauder@tribweb.com or via Twitter @bobbauder.

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