Drowning of Parkville Boy Scout was freak accident, officials say

The drowning of a 14-year-old Parkville Boy Scout who fell from a canoe after it encountered a fallen tree in Deer Creek near Clark Bridge last Sunday was a freak accident, authorities say.

No state department or local agency is responsible for removing such obstructions in streams.


Nor do regulations require canoeists to register time of departure, planned route or estimated time of arrival with a state or local government or police agency.

But Scout troops must file for a permit with local Boy Scout authorities. Troop 124 filed for a permit for last Sunday's trip, said Reed Blom, a spokesman for the Baltimore Area Council of Boy Scouts of America.


Justin Sappington of the 8600 block of Ellen Court in the Parkville area was one of eight boys and four adult leaders from the St. Isaac Jogues Boy Scout Troop 124 in Carney who set out in six canoes from Eden Mill Park.

Registering the expedition could not have prevented the accident that occurred about 200 yards east of Clark Bridge off the 3300 block of Grier Nursery Road.

Details pieced together by investigators from the Sheriff's Office, fire and rescue personnel, Scouts and Scout leaders, and from Mr. Blom's investigation requested by the national headquarters the Boy Scouts of America, revealed how the accident occurred.

The canoe in which Justin and another Scout were traveling approached the fallen tree and pulled broadside next to it. The Scouts were preparing to portage, or lift, the canoe over the obstacle.

"As they were preparing to portage, the canoe capsized," Mr. Blom said.

The Scouts fell into the water, and James Bowen, a Scout leader, said Justin was standing up and appeared to be all right.

The water was measured at 3 1/2 feet and the tree spanning the creek was 57 feet long, Mr. Blom said.

Both Scouts were wearing flotation devices, said Sgt. Richard H. Gardiner, spokesman for the Bel Air Volunteer Fire Company.


The other Scout washed under the tree and surfaced beyond it.

After Mr. Bowen was sure the first boy was safe, he turned his attention to Justin, Mr. Blom said.

The current was carrying the canoe and Justin toward the fallen tree. The canoe was filling with water and became wedged under the tree. Justin became lodged between the bottom of the canoe and the creek bottom, Mr. Blom said.

"Four grown men could not budge the canoe to move it," he said. "They found a piece of split rail fence that had floated down the creek and used it for leverage to help free Justin."

Resuscitation efforts were begun immediately and the youth had vital signs when paramedics arrived, Mr. Blom said.

"Justin was under for about five or six minutes," he said.


The boy was taken to Fallston General Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 3:03 p.m., about three hours after the accident.

The official cause of death is listed as "accidental drowning," a spokeswoman for the state medical examiner's office said Tuesday.

Ranger Jeff Schein at Rocks State Park said nature normally takes care of obstructions in Deer Creek, which meanders for about 50 miles in and out of state-owned property through northern Harford County.

"The next high water generally washes fallen trees to the side," the ranger said. "Unless the creek is completely blocked within the park, we do not enter the water and cut it open."

The location where Justin fell into the creek is not in the state park.

Deer Creek does not pass through enough state land and is not deep enough to bring it under the jurisdiction of Maryland Natural Resources Police, the ranger said.


May is normally the high-water month when spring rains swell Deer Creek and lure canoeists, the ranger said.

Most of Deer Creek becomes too shallow for canoeists later in the summer, he said.