Frankfort debates closing quarry where woman died

By Abigail Curtis, BDN Staff
Posted Aug. 03, 2010, at 8:28 p.m.

FRANKFORT, Maine — “One, two, three, leap!”

That was the rhythm needed to run and jump off the high rock ledges into the Mount Waldo quarry far below, Dan Curit II recalled Tuesday about his only venture to the popular and dangerous swimming hole on a hot September day 10 years ago.

But after he missed a beat and jumped too soon, Curit crashed into the granite ledges 85 feet below instead of into the cold quarry water.

“It was one of the worst days of my life,” Curit, now 31, said Tuesday. “It changed my life forever.”

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Then an athletic 21-year-old who dreamed of being an outdoorsman, Curit hit the ledge at the bottom of the quarry with both feet and rolled, unconscious, into the water. His body was mangled, with shattered bones in his ankles, pelvis, hip, one leg and spine, and even now — a decade after his rescue and long recuperation — he feels daily pain from the accident.

Despite all this, Curit said he still feels luckier than those who did not survive their jumps at the quarry — most recently Amy Willey of Bucksport. The 39-year-old woman died Saturday from a head injury she suffered after jumping from a 30- to 40-foot cliff into the water.

“I shouldn’t be here,” Curit said. “I thank God every day that I am.”

And the Unity man has some strong thoughts for Frankfort town officials, who he believes should be shutting the quarry down.

“They should definitely close that thing down and block it all off, so nobody could go up there,” he said. “I think it should definitely be banned. They should do something — dynamite, enough cement to fill it up, something to drain it.”

‘A bad choice’

Fixing the problem with the quarry is not so simple, Frankfort Selectmen Evelyn Adams, Joseph Watson Jr. and Allan F. Gordon Jr., said Monday night after their regular meeting.

“It’s a terrible thing that the lady lost her life,” Adams said as the trio held an informal discussion about the quarry. The issue had not been on the agenda, but a handful of residents showed up to share their thoughts.

The names of others who died at the quarry were mentioned, including Earl Keith in 1991 and Jeffrey Bishop in 1977.

The officials sounded frustrated with the town’s situation regarding the Mount Waldo quarry. The abandoned quarry is not a town-sanctioned swimming hole — in fact, the community discourages its use, they said. Frankfort has put up many no-trespassing signs and blocked the gate to the access road with metal chains and granite slabs.

However, swimmers and thrill-seekers for years have stolen the signs, snapped the locks with bolt cutters and even hauled away the granite stones in order to get up to the quarry, the selectmen said.

“The thing is, you’re not going to stop people from going up there,” said Paul Emerson, a resident who spoke at the meeting. “My personal opinion is, when you go up on those ledges, you’re making a bad choice.”

For Curit, his choice to go to the quarry was just one of those summertime things. He had come up from Portland that weekend to visit his father and decided to go swimming with friends for an hour or two.

“It’s always ‘one more jump,’” he recalled. “And of course I had to go to the top.”

After falling and shattering his ankles on the ledge, he remembers regaining consciousness underwater and trying to swim to his friends.

“They saw a trail of blood,” Curit said.

His friends pulled him onto the rocks and then ran to a store on Route 1A to call for help. An Army National Guard helicopter was called in and a medic was lowered into the quarry in a basket. After Curit was secured, he was rushed in the helicopter to Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor.

“I was basically [dead] several times during the helicopter ride,” Curit said.

When he woke up 2½ weeks later at EMMC, Curit was “all mashed and mangled” and in great pain.

Though he was told he’d never walk again, Curit said he worked to beat that diagnosis. Today, although he remains permanently disabled, he can walk with some effort.

But the former climber and hiker will live with the result of his split-second decision for the rest of his days.

“My feet stay on the ground,” he said.

‘Just an accident’

“Sometimes people take risks,” Brian Doucette, Willey’s nephew, said Tuesday evening. “They don’t realize what kind of risk they’re taking until it’s too late.”

Doucette said his aunt was “just a great person. She was a very caring, outgoing person. She was always happy. I never once talked to her when she was down or upset.”

Willey was a team leader at GHA Inc., a commercial cleaning company based in Bucksport. Her employer, Doug Gross, described the Washington County native as “an amazing person” and “very special.”

“She was very kind, very patient,” he said Tuesday. “She had a passion for life, and a passion for her work, and a passion for people — and it showed.”

Although Gross did not know much about the Mount Waldo quarry until Willey’s accident, he said that what he has learned has given him pause.

“It certainly sounds like somebody is being very lax about taking care of something that is a danger,” he said.

But Doucette said he understands why town officials might say it’s not their responsibility to police the actions of those who choose to swim at the quarry.

“It’s just an accident. That’s all I can say about it,” Doucette said.

Common sense

The Mount Waldo quarry played a crucial role in the history of Frankfort, selectmen said. Workers labored to haul granite out of the quarry until the 1960s, Adams said.

“It is beautiful,” she said of Mount Waldo. “It’s part of the heritage of the town.”

The state of Maine deeded more than 100 acres of Mount Waldo to Frankfort in 1988, including the now-flooded quarry. Restrictions on the deed require the town to use the land for “public recreational purposes,” Gordon said.

According to Adams, short of hiring armed guards to patrol the quarry around the clock, there really isn’t anything effective that Frankfort can do to make the spot safer for people who are determined to leap from the granite ledges.

Emerson agreed.

“The main thing you’d need to keep it safe up there are the two words they’ve taken out of the dictionary: ‘common’ and ‘sense,’” he said.

According to Robert E. Drew, chairman of the Frankfort Granite Committee, the water may not be safe to even swim in, let alone jump into from the ledges.

Old drill bits that can be 12 feet long stick out from the rocks under the waterline, he told the selectmen and other residents Tuesday night.

But some of the suggestions made by people like Curit are not practical, he added.

“Some people say, ‘Fill it in,’” Drew said. “There’s no way in this town you’re going to have enough money to fill it in.”

Emerson said, “It can’t be dynamited by the town.”

To do anything like that, both the state and Frankfort residents would have to give an OK first, Adams said.

No one seemed convinced that such an action would be taken soon, if ever, or even if it would be truly necessary.

“[Amy Willey] just made a bad choice,” Emerson said.

“And it’s a terrible, terrible thing,” Adams echoed.

http://bangordailynews.com/2010/08/03/news/frankfort-debates-closing-quarry-where-woman-died/ printed on September 20, 2014