The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

July 5, 2013

Coroner: Pit perils are too risky to ignore

By Francis Scarcella
The Daily Item

McALISTERVILLE — The dangers of swimming in a water-filled abandoned strip mining pit have re-emerged following the Independence Day death of a New York state man in Northumberland County.

Benjamin Taus, 24, of West Babylon, N.Y. was pronounced dead of accidental drowning at the scene by Northumberland County Coroner James Kelley after Taus’ body was recovered from about 30 feet below the surface from where he entered the water.

Taus is reported to have jumped from a 20-foot-high rock ledge and into the water, according to a statement from Kelley. The incident was reported about 2:50 p.m. Dive teams from Sunbury and Mahanoy City recovered Taus’ body nearly two hours later.

Taus had been with his brother, Peter Taus, 23, and several others at the stripping pit, known locally as “The Slopes,” in Mount Carmel Township, just off Route 901 about four miles southwest of Mount Carmel borough, township police report.

Swimming in the myriad abandoned strip pits filled with water has long been a summer pasttime — albeit a treacherous one — throughout the Coal Region of the Valley.

Kelley said people continue to venture into the waters despite years of warning of the dangers.

“Fortunately, these incidents do not happen on a regular basis as they once were,” Kelley said.

Among issues, the Mine Safety and Health Administration of the U.S. Labor Department warns, is there is no way of knowing how deep the water is in a filled stripping pit.

Given the nature strip mining — getting to coal by removing layers of soil and rock overlying the deposit — the depth and stability of the stripping pit are questionable and likely unstable.

Also, heavy equipment, such as cranes, tend to be left behind, making it unclear what may be in the pit itself. Sharp changes in water depth and extremely cold temperatures also are issues abandoned strip mines pose.

The best way to stay safe, Kelley said, “is don’t go in there at all.”

Taus’ body was taken to Geisinger-Shamokin Area Community Hospital in Coal Township for toxicology tests. Kelley said there will not be an autopsy.