Despite cold water in Grasse River, Massena Rescue Squad hoped drowning victim could be revived due to his youth
Thursday, June 27, 2013 - 2:37 pm

By CRAIG FREILICH

MASSENA – About 45 minutes after they got the call, the Massena Rescue Squad Dive Team found a Massena teenager who had disappeared in the Grasse River, they had begun CPR, and personnel at Massena Memorial Hospital took over when they got him there, “but obviously and unfortunately, we were not successful,” said Massena Rescue Squad President Eric Duchsherer.

“We knew the water was cold, but he was a young man, so we wanted to do everything we could to save him. You hear reports of people surviving this kind of thing, especially a young person, so...”

Seventeen-year-old Donald Bemis, by all reports a well-liked student at Massena Central, died after he got separated from some companions along the Grasse River in the village Tuesday evening.

He was found near Calvary Cemetery, off of Maple Street, some distance from where he went missing.

An autopsy, due today, will likely determine the cause of death, whether by drowning or some other way, Duchsherer said.

“They would look for water in the lungs, and head trauma,” among other things, Duchsherer said. “He might have lungs full of water, which would indicate he went in and took a breath and maybe drowned, or there would be no water, which might indicate he was injured.”

Bemis, identified in broadcast reports as the victim of the accident Tuesday evening, was said to have been trying to cross the river when he dropped out of sight.

“If they had gone there last year, they might have been able to walk in knee-high water, but with the heavy rain this spring, all the rivers in the area are high and the currents are fast.

“Friends told us they saw him, and then they didn’t see him,” Duchsherer said. He said the rescue squad arrived within about 10 minutes of getting the call, put their Zodiac boat into the water and began the search. Duchsherer said they had members in the water and members, equipment and vehicles on both shores looking for the boy. There were about 10 members at the scene.

In addition to the rescue squad, other agencies reported at the scene were Massena Village Police, State Police, Border Patrol, and the Massena Police Department.