Volunteers brave strong currents to retrieve body

By Denise Coffey - Staff Writer
Putnam - posted Tue., May. 3, 2011
A rescuer diver scans raging waters at Cargill Dam. Photos by D. Coffey
A rescuer diver scans raging waters at Cargill Dam. Photos by D. Coffey

On Sunday, May 1, emergency response crews from nine area companies spent more than six hours trying to locate the body of a Dayville man in the roaring currents at Cargill Falls in Putnam.

According to Putnam Police Chief Ricky Hayes, Samuel Miller “entered the Quinebaug River of his own accord and unprovoked.” He entered the river about 3 p.m., 100 feet upstream of Cargill Falls, and went over the dam, Hayes said.

Emergency crews responded and searched the falls area for hours.

“We were in need of technical assistance (water assistance),” Hayes said. “It took us over an hour to get our guy across the water to the small island in the middle of the dam area.” That volunteer was Scott Lefebvre, who spent an hour in the water searching for Miller. “Once we established the lines, we got that roped off and brought in security to make sure nothing happened to them.”

The Woodstock dive team, Muddy Brook dive team and Tolland water rescue teams responded.

The early part of the rescue operation concentrated on the section of river between the falls and the Route 44 bridge. Volunteers were looking in pools and searching the edges of the river to find Miller. They went up onto the island to see if they could locate him in one of the pools of swirling water.

At approximately 6 p.m., Hayes made a call to the Army Corps of Engineers to restrict the flow of water through the West Thompson Dam.

“We did the best we could,” Hayes said. “We tried. We thought we had a sighting, but it came up negative.”

The volunteers were pulled from the water and the river banks and they waited for the water levels to lower and the currents to diminish before going back to the search.

Supervisory Park Ranger Ed Greenough said he got the call to close the gates at about 5:30 p.m. on Sunday. At that time, water was flowing over the dam at 450 cubic feet per second.

“That’s a lot of current,” Greenough said. “It’s hard to keep your footing with that strong a current.”

His rangers were able to slow the flow to 100 CFS by closing the steel gates in front of the huge 20-foot conduit pipes in the dam. It is the level normally occurring in the middle of summer when the river is low. The change in flow took about four hours to reach Cargill Falls and the rescuers.

Miller’s body was finally pulled from a pool of water at approximately 9:30 p.m.

According to the Putnam Police Department’s press release, Miller suffered from mental illness, including severe depression and schizophrenia. Miller’s family encourages anyone suffering from mental illness to seek help from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and area organizations.

Johnny McDonough and Jeremy Rodriguez went to the site on Monday, May 2, to pay tribute to Miller. They walked the edges and surveyed the falls, trying to come to grips with his death.

“He was a friend and a customer,” McDonough said. “He was a great kid.” McDonough held a black baseball cap with a Phillies logo on the front. Miller had left the hat at McDonough’s tattoo shop, Body Marx, in Danielson recently. McDonough believes that Miller left the hat on purpose, that he knew he was going to commit suicide.

“We loved having him at the shop,” McDonough said. Miller’s tattoos included an anchor with the word “Pops” on it. “He had it to honor his father,” McDonough said. “He always spoke highly of his family, his sister.”

Friends from Body Marx signed the hat, and McDonough and Rodriquez planned to release it on the river. The two men are asking that people who want to contribute to Miller’s funeral costs visit them at their shop, Body Marx, on Main Street in Danielson.

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