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SUNY Canton student’s body recovered after drowning at Lampson Falls

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DEGRASSE — St. Lawrence County Dive Team members on Monday pulled the body of a 21-year-old SUNY Canton student from the Grasse River after he drowned Sunday at Lampson Falls in the town of Clare.

The man was identified as Elliott D. Mullings of Brooklyn, who was a third-year law enforcement leadership student at the college.

Sheriff Kevin M. Wells said Mr. Mullings had been tubing with friends Sunday afternoon at the Grasse River Recreation Area off County Route 27 when he went missing.

“A 911 call was placed by one of the individuals present near the falls at approximately 4:16 p.m.,” Mr. Wells said. “The individual missing became endangered and friends and other people at the scene were unable to assist him and lost sight of him in the water.”

Mr. Mullings became caught up in the swift current and high waters and was swept downstream, Mr. Wells said.

Deputies at the scene Monday morning said witnesses told them the man had ridden down the waterfall on an inner tube, disappeared under water, resurfaced and then disappeared. Alcohol is not believed to have been involved. Sheriff’s Detective Sgt. Thomas H. Caringi said the strong current and temperature of the water were likely factors in the drowning.

Rescuers estimated the water temperature at the surface to be 59 degrees.

Following an autopsy Monday night, St. Lawrence County Coroner June H. Woods determined the cause of death to be accidental asphyxiation.

“It was a cold-water drowning and no major trauma was found,” Ms. Wood said. “ I don’t believe alcohol to be a factor.”

Divers were called Sunday along with rescue personnel from several departments, Mr. Wells said. Russell Volunteer Fire Department was the lead agency. The search yielded no sign of Mr. Mullings before nightfall Sunday, and resumed Monday morning.

Mr. Wells said additional dive teams and a helicopter were brought to the scene Monday morning. Mr. Mullings’s body was pulled from the river shortly before 11:30 a.m.

Divers found Mr. Mullings in a black-water eddy approximately 150 yards downstream from the falls, according to Mark T. Smutz, St. Lawrence County Underwater Recovery Team dive master. The search was difficult, partly because of underwater debris, he said.

“Right now it is the spring of the year and you have such high water. The currents aren’t predictable; the eddies underneath aren’t predictable,” Mr. Smutz said. “This time of year, everybody wants to have fun in the water, but to throw on a life jacket correctly, you’re not going to lose the joy of riding in the water.”

He stressed the use of proper precautions.

“This is the tragedy that happens because that current can throw you around, bang you around with all the debris the high water that we’ve had just collects,” Mr. Smutz said. “You’re at the water’s mercy after that.”

Assistant dive master John A. Ashley said the Grasse River’s dark waters made recovery efforts especially difficult.

“Black water causes low visibility, and we had four to five feet of visibility in good areas,” Mr. Ashley said. “Mostly we could only see five inches in front of us.”

SUNY Canton student Shanny M. Cruz, 22, said students reacted to the news with shock and sadness.

“We were hoping they were going to find him alive,” Miss Cruz said as she sat on her luggage waiting for a Trailways bus in Canton’s Midtown Plaza. “He was just trying to have fun with his two best friends.”

Her boyfriend, David L. Flores, 22, Bronx, said he knew Mr. Mullings and had seen him walking around campus two days earlier.

“I hung out with him like twice,” Mr. Flores said. “He was laid back, friendly and welcoming.”

Courtney Battista Bish, SUNY Canton dean of students and chief student affairs officer, said the college is offering counseling to Mr. Mullings’s friends and fellow students. Any student looking to speak to a counselor can contact the dean of students’ office at 386-7120 or bish@canton.edu, or call the Counseling Center at 386-7314.

“Please join me in keeping Elliott’s family and friends in your thoughts and prayers,” Ms. Bish said in a news release.

State forest rangers, state police, SUNY police, Ogdensburg Police Department and members of numerous fire departments, rescue squads and other first responders and volunteers participated in the search.

Johnson Newspapers writer Susan Mende contributed to this report.

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