The man who witnessed the fatal June 27 Lake Linganore boating accident, and was the only 911 caller, also flagged down two nearby police officers in an effort to speed up recovery efforts.
Robert Stedman, 68, lives near the dam off Accipiter Drive and has taken up walking around his neighborhood loop almost daily thanks to a work-supported step-counting program in which he takes part. Just before 6:30 p.m. that day, Stedman decided to alter his routine and take a different route down Eaglehead Drive and up a footpath to the dam, he said.
“That was kind of fortunate,” he said Tuesday, recalling his walk that evening. “Sometimes things happen that are not so good, and people say, ‘They were in the wrong place at the wrong time.’ Well, in this case, I think I was in the right place at the right time to help.”
Shortly after passing a pair of police cruisers that were in a small parking area at Eaglehead Drive and Woodridge Road, Stedman saw the raging current and high water spilling over the dam. He took a picture to send to his daughter, who had recently come to visit.
He then noticed a 20-foot pontoon boat, one of the largest he’d seen on the lake, headed straight for the lip of the dam.
“It looked like they were all standing up in the boat trying to look at the turmoil in the lake,” Stedman said. “It looked like they had cruised right up to the face so they could look over the edge, and that’s only my opinion, but it looked like he underestimated the flow of the water, and they just went over.”
Stedman called 911 and reported what he saw to a call-taker as he tried to get a better view of the dam.
“They went over the ... the boat went over the dam, and there was a bunch of people on it, but I don’t know how many, but I see at least one person,” Stedman can be heard telling the call-taker in a 911 recording obtained by The Frederick News-Post in a Maryland Public Information Act request. “... It cruised right up to the edge of the dam, which I’ve seen people do, and I was walking away from it with my back to it, and I heard this scraping and crunching sound, and I turned around, and the boat went over the dam.”
After providing his name and a few more details, Stedman lost connection with the call-taker. He hurried back to where the police cruisers were parked, he said, as dispatchers began sending rescue crews to the area.
Both officers were still parked at the pull-off area, Stedman said. After he got their attention and explained what had happened, the officers grabbed a few things from their cruisers and headed up to the spillway, where Stedman called 911 again, this time to give the dispatcher an update.
“They’ve got a throw rope with a life vest and stuff. ... I don’t think ... I don’t think they’re going to be able to get them out of that water until you get additional help here,” he said in the recordings.
Stedman said a woman who arrived at the scene later mentioned something about seeing a man in the water below the falls, but Stedman glanced and didn’t see anything, assuming the man had swum to shore. The 62-year-old man who was piloting the boat, Stephen Wade Hembree, drowned in the current before he could be rescued, according to Maryland Natural Resources Police.
None of the eight teen girls on the boat at the time — the Hembrees were celebrating their daughter’s 16th birthday — was seriously hurt before a team of police and rescue workers were able to pull them from the rapids.
“It was very fortunate for everybody that they happened to still be there,” Stedman said of the officers he flagged down near the dam. “God, it all happened so quick. It couldn’t have been five to 10 minutes when I walked past and watched the boat cruise down.”
Dam is about 60 feet high; spillwat sluices about 30 feet into a rockpile cascade!
A boat operator was killed and eight passengers were rescued Saturday evening at a Maryland lake when the current pushed their boat over a dam and sent it crashing into a spillway. The passengers said the swiftly moving water on Lake Linganore caught them off guard, and they were thrown from the boat at about 6:30 p.m. Saturday night , according to WJLA.com. The current was strong enough to pull the boat over a dam and into a spillway, the report added.
It's not clear if nearby storms contributed to the tragedy. "Rainy conditions were in place much of Saturday until about 4 p.m. at nearby Frederick Municipal Airport," said weather.com meteorologist Chris Dolce. "Winds gusted to near 20 mph at times during the late-afternoon hours."
Candy Thomson, spokesperson for the Maryland Natural Resources Police, said the 62-year-old man operating the boat was killed in the accident, the Frederick News-Post reported. His body was found about 5 hours after the crash was first reported, the News-Post also said. After neighbors heard people screaming for help, authorities were alerted to the passengers stranded in the water, ABC News reported.
Rescue crews rushed to the area and worked for an extended period of time to save the surviving eight passengers. Some were pulled out of the water by ropes, while others were airlifted by helicopter. Lake Linganore is some 40 miles northwest of Washington, D.C. and Baltimore. Images of the rescues can be viewed in the slideshow below.
Here's the details of the June 27 drowning. Does this type of incident qualify for your report?
A dam on Linganore Creek creates a four-mile longimpoundment around which several housing developments have emerged, collectivelyknown as Lake Linganore, with fishing, swimming, and boating being majorattractions. Waters in the lake arenormally placid. There is no gauge onLinganore Creek. However, heavy rainscaused all creeks in the Monocacy River watershed to rise precipitously duringthe day of Saturday, June 27. Big PipeCreek, also a west-flowing Monocacy tributary about 20 upriver from LinganoreCreek, rose from about 100 cfs to 1400 cfs, while the Monocacy River at a gauge4.5 miles upstream from the mouth of Linganore Creek rose from about 1200 cfsto approximately 13,000 cfs by midnight and continued to rise the next day andexceeded flood stage.
On Saturday afternoon, June 27, Stephen Hembree age 62, was onthe lake piloting a pontoon boat powered by an electric motor. In addition to Hembree, 8 teenagers werepassengers on the boat. Although it wasreported that there were PFDs aboard, apparently no one was wearing one. The boat ventured close to the dam, and theelectric motor was overpowered by a surprisingly strong current. It was swept over the dam. Hembree was pinned in rocks in the spillway belowand drowned. The teenagers were allrescued and escaped with minor injuries.