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Students Mourn Classmate Who Drowned in Schuylkill County

WEST MAHANOY TOWNSHIP — One day after a 16-year-old boy drowned in a strip mining pit, the state announced plans to remove hazards at a different strip mi...
tolik stutts

WEST MAHANOY TOWNSHIP -- One day after a 16-year-old boy drowned in a strip mining pit, the state announced plans to remove hazards at a different strip mine area.

But will something be done to prevent another tragedy?

The DEP announced plans to reclaim abandoned and hazardous strip mine land near Hazleton. The state will spend $4 million on just that project.

But people in Schuylkill County say active strip mine lands still being used, like where the teen drowned Tuesday night, are just as dangerous and something should be done there, too

Students lined the hallways to write on Tolik Stutts' locker at Shenandoah Junior Senior High school. Stutts died after swimming at the strip mine pit called "Suckers Pit" near Shenandoah.

According to authorities, Stutts and a friend were jumping off a rock ledge into the fishing hole. Tolik never resurfaced.

"He was nice to everybody. I never saw him have a problem with a single student and he was the type of person you could go to with any problem. Even if you didn't know him, he would always help you out," said Riley Miller of Shenandoah.

"What's next is be with our students that are here and try to work with them to heal. We're thankful for the grief counselors that came up and helping our students through the grieving process," said Shenandoah principal Phillip Andras.

One of the biggest issues crews say they run into with water rescues like this one is access. That's because they can't use trucks to get out to those remote locations. They have to fit everything they need in smaller vehicles.

"Motor vehicle accidents, you can get crews out there very quickly, fire definitely, within minutes. With water rescue, you're going to wait maybe 40 minutes until we deploy," said David Truskowsky, West End Fire & Rescue.

Truskowsky, the lead scuba diver and Schuykill County deputy coroner, says that people don't realize that if it takes you awhile to get to an illegal swimming hole, it'll take rescue crews even longer.

"Most of the time, in situations like this, we need to get geared up, jump into a quad and go out to the location because it's usually pretty remote."

The DEP tells federal money is available to reclaim only abandoned mine land. However there are plans for Keystone Anthracite, the company that's permitted to mine there, to fill in the pit. There is no word yet on when that will take place.