Rescue crews await the arrival of cave experts as water rushes from Cliff Cave. Photo by Bill Milligan.
By Bill Milligan
Results of a police investigation into the death of four youths are expected today, according to St. Louis County Police Col. Ron Battelle.
The investigation will determine if criminal prosecution is warranted in the death last week after flash floods swept through the underground Cliff Cave in Cliff Cave County Park.
“The park has been closed for at least two weeks,” Battelle said as he reviewed the scene Saturday evening. He said the St. Louis County Council would need to determine if the cave should be closed to all but experienced cave explorers.
A group of 16 youths and four adults were exploring the cave July 23 when a storm dumped five inches of water on the areas around the cave. Runoff drained into the cave causing what is normal a trickle on the cave floor to become a four-foot torrent that shot out of the cave a distance of more that 10-feet before it fell into the creek bed below.
Found dead were Emmett Terry, 9, Tarrell Battle, 10, Melvin Bell, 10, Terrill Vincent, 12, all of St. Louis. Also found dead were counselors Darnell Redmond, 31, of Richmond Heights, and Jennifer Metherd, 21, of Lemay.
Most of the group turned around when passages narrowed to crawl ways. They exited the cave when the water inside began rising. Group leaders called for help when other members of the party failed to exit after several minutes.
Emergency crews arrived at 2:30 p.m.
Three of the victims were found wedged against trees near the entrance of the cave at about 3:10 p.m. A fourth was found 600 feet inside the cave at about 6 p.m.
The following day, rescue workers found Gary Mahr, 12, of St. Louis alive on a ledge about 1,000 feet from the cave entrance. Two victims were found about 1,000 feet from where Mahr was found.
The youths were residents of St. Joseph’s Home for Boys, 4753 South Grand Blvd. The counselors were employed at the home and had been conducting cave explorations in the cave several days prior to the accident.
“We have people in that cave everyday,” said Bob Palmer, assistant chief for Mehlville Fire Protection District. “Most of them are inexperienced. Everyone who goes in a cave should carry at least three flashlights. No one should go inside this cave when flash flooding is predicted.”