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Massena teen drowns in Grasse River

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MASSENA — A 17-year-old Massena man drowned Tuesday night in the Grasse River.

Several agencies, including the Massena Rescue Squad’s dive team, were dispatched to a “water rescue situation” shortly after 6 p.m. Tuesday in the Grasse River area behind Calvary Cemetery, where Donald Bemis drowned.

Van W. Alexander, a guidance counselor at the Massena Central School District’s Delta School of Choice, where the teen was a student, met with the boy’s mother Wednesday morning.

According to Mr. Alexander, Mr. Bemis had been swimming in the Grasse River behind the cemetery with three other friends. The boys attempted to rescue him but were unable to do so. Names of the three young men were not given.

Massena Rescue Squad President Eric D. Duchscherer said bystanders on the shore of the river said they had an additional person with their group who went missing in the water.

“It was at that point that we activated our dive team and put our Zodiac boat in the water,” Mr. Duchscherer said.

The team had been in the water for nearly a half hour when it recovered the victim by the shoreline.

When rescue squad members started resuscitation efforts, they were uncertain how long the teen had been in the cold water. The resuscitation efforts continued while he was taken to Massena Memorial Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

The conditions of the water may have been a factor in the youth’s death, Mr. Duchscherer said, as recent heavy rains resulted in deeper water and stronger currents, which could cause even shallow waters to be dangerous.

But whatever the cause, Mr. Duchscherer said, swimming in unsupervised water is risky.

“As a general rule I strongly discourage any wading or swimming in unexplored or uncharted waters whenever they are unsupervised because the likelihood of injury is that much greater,” he said.

An autopsy will be conducted today. St. Lawrence County Coroner James M. Sienkiewycz has ruled the death accidental.

“It was clearly accidental,” he said. “The big thing was the heroic actions of his friends. They went back into those waters to rescue him.”

He said the actions of Mr. Bemis’s friends were “amazing,” even with the sad ending.

“This was just young kids having fun, not hurting anybody,” the coroner said. “It’s just a sad end.”

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