1 Dead as Jet Ski Falls Over Dam in Edgeworth

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
20 May 2012
By Taryn Luna

A woman was killed Sunday afternoon and a man was injured when their jet ski went over the Dashields Dam in Edgeworth.

A Portersville family fishing near the dam arrived in time to save the man's life. The woman, identified by the Allegheny County Medical Examiner's Office as Melissa Mason, 24, of Aliquippa, was pronounced dead at Sewickley Valley Hospital.

Tony Prelec, 54, said he was fishing in his boat on the Ohio River with his son, his daughter and her boyfriend shortly before 4 p.m. when they noticed a jet ski bouncing up and down in the water close to the dam.

Mr. Prelec said he pulled up the anchor and headed toward the jet ski to make sure no one was injured.

"Sure enough we went over and they were stuck in the undertow right at the base of the dam, and the current was so strong that they couldn't get away from the dam, it kept pulling them under," he said. "They were both coherent when we got to the dam because she yelled 'Help us, I can't breathe!'"

When the Prelecs arrived the couple was holding onto the jet ski. Both were wearing life vests, which had little effect in the violent current that peeled their swimsuits off them.

Mr. Prelec said he kept the boat about 20 feet from the dam to avoid getting pulled into the undertow as he and his family made a throw line with a life preserver and tossed it out to the couple.

"We threw it out to the girl, who had broken loose from the Ski-Doo, and she couldn't get it," he said. "We threw it to him and he was able to grab it and we pulled him up to the boat."

Ms. Mason struggled in the water and disappeared for about a minute.

"The last time she came up, she was face down and we knew she wouldn't be able to grab on," he said.

The family used an aluminum boat hook to pull Ms. Mason's unconscious body into the boat.

Mr. Prelec's daughter Melanie, a 21-year-old nurse in training at Youngstown State University, and another nurse in a nearby boat that witnessed the rescue conducted CPR on Ms. Mason until they reached the Leetsdale dock, where ambulances took the pair to the hospital.

"She never regained consciousness," Mr. Prelec said. "She had taken in too much water, even if it was in a short time."

Ms. Mason was pronounced dead at 4:41 p.m. The condition of the man was unavailable Sunday night, but Mr. Prelec said he was conscious and speaking after the accident.

"He just said 'I didn't realize I was that close,," Mr. Prelec said. "He was pretty banged up himself. It's the worst place you can be, at the base of the dam."

The 1,585-foot-wide fixed-crest concrete dam has a 10-foot drop.

The medical examiner is conducting an autopsy to determine Ms. Mason's cause of death. Allegheny County police are investigating the accident.

Taryn Luna: tluna@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1985.