Some people just don’t understand the dangers of Lawrence’s Bowersock Dam and spillway, where raging waters almost claimed the life of a 14-year-old boy last week, a dam official said.
On Friday — one week after the boy was dramatically rescued from the water — four adults were cited by Lawrence police for criminal trespass after getting too close to the dangerous waters. The day before, dam officials said they witnessed a woman climb a barbed wired fence with her two young children to play in the water.
“There’s a lot of hazards out there,” said Rich Foreman, plant manager of Bowersock Mills & Power Co., 546 Mass., which owns and operates the dam and spillway and uses the powerful water currents to create hydroelectric energy.
Foreman, who lives at the power company, said he and his staff are monitoring the area closely after the June 5 near-drowning of Joseph Ahlert, and will be contacting police anytime people are seen in an unauthorized area, and pursuing criminal charges against them.
“We’re trying to protect the public more than anything else, it’s not that we want to be the bad guys that keep everybody out of there, it’s just that we have to, we don’t have a choice with the liability,” Foreman said. “We’re going to get aggressive with it.”
Those cited for criminal trespass on Friday “were observed walking in a restricted area along the Kansas River” shortly before 9 a.m., police spokeswoman Kim Murphree said in a news release. “The area is beyond a fence line that prohibits individuals from getting too close to the water and the dam.”
One week prior, Ahlert was on the spillway when he lost his balance, fell into the roaring water and became trapped under a log.
Emergency workers risked their lives to perform a 20-minute water rescue, eventually pulling Ahlert’s limp body from under the log and performing CPR on him for several minutes before successfully reviving him. Ahlert was flown with critical injuries to Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, Mo.
The boy was given a 1-percent chance of survival, but was no longer hospitalized Friday. On Monday, the boy’s mother said he was making a “remarkable” recovery. Further attempts to contact the boy’s family were not successful this week.
Police consider Ahlert and the four teens he was with as suspects of criminal trespassing, said Lawrence Police Sgt. Bill Cory. Once the investigation is complete, Cory said the case will be forwarded to Douglas County District Attorney Charles Branson’s office. The DA will determine whether to file charges.
Sarah Hill-Nelson, plant owner and operator, said plant officials met with Lawrence Police Chief Ron Olin and Lawrence-Douglas County Fire Medical officials on Thursday to discuss ways to prevent people from getting on the spillway and dam. She said plant workers will be notifying police anytime someone is found violating the law, and that officers have agreed to routinely monitor the area.
A police car was seen patrolling the area Friday afternoon.
Though the area is surrounded by fencing and large signs indicating the dangers of the area, plant workers said both are routinely knocked down and destroyed by people wanting to fish in the area.
Hill-Nelson said she encouraged people to use the river for recreation, just not in the areas east of the North Second Street bridges over the Kansas River and 30 feet to the east of the edge of the dam.
After the rescue, Bowersock officials painted a new large sign on a small pier, near where Ahlert fell into the water. In bright red letters, it reads, “No trespassing! Keep off concrete.” Multiple other signs in the area also indicate warnings.
The owner said emergency workers are planning exercises at the dam, in the event of another rescue.