Alleged Jumper Causes Stir in Towanda
By Rick Hiduk
A routine lunch hour on a sunny weekday afternoon in Towanda was interrupted by the blare of rescue vehicle sirens as at least four local response units were called to the Susquehanna River behind the Bradford County courthouse on June 27. Two women from Troy were enjoying lunch at a picnic table along the pedestrian path adjacent to the Merrill Parkway, when one of the women thought she saw someone jump into the river directly across from her.
Penny Green was talking with Mollie Eliot when it appeared to her that a full-sized child or adult plunged into the river from an area on the island opposite where she sat and where she had been noticing what turned out to be colorful garbage lodged with other spring flood debris among a pile of branches.
“It was so quick. He was standing on the bank, and he jumped out there,” Green gestured. “I know that he went out there, but I just never saw him come up.”
Eliot related that her friend literally jumped up in her seat and told her what they saw. Eliot, who had been facing the courthouse, spun around on her seat, and both women trained their eyes on the river, which was brown with storm runoff from recent rains. When nobody surfaced, either across from them or further downstream, Eliot dialed 911.
“I thought that maybe he was out for a swim, but I thought it was rather odd for someone to be swimming there,” Green continued, noting that it was the first time that either of the women had visited the riverfront park.
“It was a relaxing day until this happened,” said Eliot. “Now I feel like we’ve been put through the wringer.” The latter comment was a reflection of the number of officials, reporters, and bystanders to whom the women repeated their story.
As the crowd of courthouse employees and other people who were downtown at the time gathered along the shoreline, Towanda Borough Fire Department assistant chief Bill Sheets monitored radio transmission between rescue teams from his department and North Towanda and Wysox, each of which had men in boats on the river. The certified water rescue personnel scoured both sides of the island and walked about it searching for any clues that would imply that people may have been camping or fishing there. Though visibility in the water was limited, the squad from North Towanda, who first reached the part of the island where Green thought she had earlier seen a man, reported via radio to Sheets that they found no footprints near the debris nor any indication that anything other than animals had been using the area.
Although county Sheriff C.J Walters and Towanda Borough police officer Derrick Kelley were on the scene speaking with Memorial Hospital EMS associates, they and Sheets agreed that nobody from the borough had jurisdiction over the island and therefore could not make the decision to suspend the rescue operation nor to switch gears and work on the recovery of a body of a jumper whose existence was in doubt by more people with each passing minute. Nonetheless, Green and Eliot were visibly shaken and frustrated to learn that they could not leave the scene until they had been interviewed by the state police.
An hour and a half after it began, an officer from the Towanda barracks called off the search, and fire company personnel pulled their boats from the water. A desk clerk at the Towanda barracks, who was not at the scene, related the next morning that the investigating officer was unconvinced that Green had actually seen a human enter the water. State police questioned the witness’s credibility and suggested that a dark shadow in the bright midday sun had played tricks on her eyes.
In any regard, spectators of the event bore witness to an honest effort by the aforementioned fire departments in response to an alleged jumper and potential drowning. While no one knows for sure what Green saw, the public should have been impressed by and possibly a bit more appreciative of the dedicated volunteers who dropped everything in the middle of a summer day to help avert a possible tragedy.