Hearing cries, but unable to save three lives

Thursday, June 29, 2006

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David s. spence⁄The Gazette
Myersville farmer David ‘‘Jimmy” Grossnickle on Wednesday afternoon stands near the spot where he, his son and nephew attempted to save the lives of three people the previous night as Middle Creek flooded along Md. Route 17 north of Route 40 in Myersville.

David ‘‘Jimmy” Grossnickle says he will never forget the sounds of the three drowning people he tried to rescue with his son and nephew in Myersville on Tuesday night.

Grossnickle described Wednesday how he tried to save the young people he saw being washed away from their vehicle.

He watched a pickup truck pass through rising waters and three passengers in the bed of the truck — later identified as Eric Zepp, 19, and a married couple, Jesse Haulsee, 24, and Angelia Haulsee, 29, all of Myersville.

The young adults were later found less than a mile downstream.

They had been washed off the truckbed as it crossed a deep overflow from Middle Creek. Grossnickle said the driver probably was unaware his passengers had been forced off the truck by the rushing water.

Earlier that evening, Grossnickle had rescued one stranded motorist and was watching the roiling waters of Middle Creek rise along Wolfsville Road when he saw the pickup truck.

Grossnickle said he and his son, David Grossnickle, and nephew, Pete Grossnickle, quickly grabbed a tractor and rope and rushed to where the three had fallen off the truck.

At least two of them were clinging onto tree branches to fight the rapid waters, Grossnickle said. He could not see their faces in the darkness, but said he could hear them.

‘‘They called out to us,” Grossnickle recalled. ‘‘We could hear them asking for help.”

The men tried to reach the victims, but the strong waters forced them back. He pointed out one thin, snapped branch, saying that was where one of the young people had lost their grasp.

‘‘I knew they were going die,” Grossnickle said solemnly as he revisited the site. ‘‘They couldn’t hold on. The water was too swift. You wouldn’t believe how violent it was.”

Fire and rescue crews, tied up with other flood-related emergencies around the county, arrived two hours later, about 10:30 p.m.

According to the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office, fire and rescue crews found the bodies near Bittle Road.

The victims were driving on Bittle Road when their car stalled, according to the Sheriff’s Office. The pickup truck driver offered the trio a ride, but the victims apparently fell into the creek. Police declined to identify the driver.

‘‘How they got into the water, we’re still investigating that,” said Cpl. Jennifer Bailey, Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman.

Deputy Fire Chief Justin Grossnickle, from the Myersville Volunteer Fire Company, said several fire departments responded to the emergency.

Firefighters from Myersville, Middletown, Frederick City, Wolfsville and Smithsburg searched the creek Tuesday night. Volunteers found the bodies near Bittle and Wolfsville roads.

‘‘Flooding wise, emergency wise, it’s been one of the worst [storms] in a very long time,” Chief Justin Grossnickle said. ‘‘It’s never been this bad as long as I can remember ... Not since I’ve been here.”

Rescue crews found the Haulsees just north of the intersection Md. Route 17 and Maryland Route 40. Eric Zepp was taken to Frederick Memorial Hospital where he was pronounced dead, according to the Sheriff’s Office.