Tragedy Reminds Others to be Safe on the River

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LEHIGHTON -- Days after a woman and her grandson died after swimming in the Lehigh river in Carbon County, some people said the tragedy is a reminder to take safety precautions.

State police said Wanda Wentz, 49, of Lehighton died Friday afternoon, trying to save her seven-year-old grandson while they were swimming near Lehighton.

Many people spent a hot summer day rafting on the Lehigh river, while others enjoyed kayaking or just floating along.

Some were aware that a similar day turned tragic for one family.

"It`s scary, unfortunate. You come out here to just have fun and you forget there`s the possibility of bad things happening like that. So it levels you out a bit," said Valerie Betz of Tamaqua.

State police said Wentz was swimming with her grandchildren near a railroad trestle in Weissport when she noticed some of them were in trouble. She tried to help but apparently slipped on some rocks, and drowned.

Nolan Ritchie, 7, of Coaldale was flown to Lehigh Valley Hospital, where the coroner said he died early Saturday morning.

"That`s really, really sad and of course, any parent or grandparent that sees a youngster going into the water and knows they`re in distress is going to, what can you do? You just go in after them," said Matt Miskie, who has been a river guide on the Lehigh river for eight years.

There are no signs forbidding swimming on the Lehigh, but those who go out on it often, said while the water can look calm at times, it can be dangerous.

"There are things that people don’t think about. They don’t think about weather conditions, they don’t think about medical conditions. They don’t think about the force of water. They’re used to water being in a pool or being still and don’t realize that one pound of water weights eight pounds as it’s moving. It’s a lot more force. They don’t understand the forces and the power of water until sometimes it’s tragically too late," added Miskie. "Something as simple as floatation makes all the difference in the world."

Cindy Messerschmidt was rafting with her grandchildren and made sure they all wore life jackets.

"Even though they can swim, we don`t know the river. It`s our first time that we`re doing this and we have no idea where the deep ends are, the shallow ends are. So it`s unfamiliar territory and we`d rather be safe," said Messerschmidt of Hometown.

Some hope the deaths serve as a reminder to be careful when out on the water.

"You can`t stop doing things on the river, but you have to practice safety, because it`s nature," said Messerschmidt.

"It can be enjoyed and it must be respected," added Miskie.

State police said Wentz's death was an accidental drowning, but the Carbon County deputy coroner said an autopsy is scheduled for 8 a.m. Monday at Lehigh Valley Hospital.