The investigation of a death at Peckman River last week has been ruled an accidental drowning, Cedar Grove Police Chief Richard Vanderstreet told the Times this week.
Last Wednesday, June 18, a group of teens and young adults reported that their friend, Stephen Agyei, had not returned to the surface after jumping into an area of the river dubbed “Devil’s Hole.”
While responding officers, the local fire department and rescue squad members went into the water to search for the victim, they were unsuccessful. It wasn’t until the Lyndhurst Fire Department Dive Team arrived on the scene and found Agyei 15-feet below the water’s surface.
Agyei, whose name means “messenger of God,” was an 18-year-old Newark resident.
“This is unfortunate. To my knowledge, there’s never been an incident such as this before,” Vanderstreet said.
While Devil’s Hole is open to the public, it bares no signage addressing the potential dangers of swimming or jumping into the river.
However, Vanderstreet said “it is not appropriate or approved for swimming. So [swimming there] would be an unsanctioned event.”
Devil’s Hole is the deepest point of the Peckman River, which is a part of the Passaic River in Essex and Passaic counties. Teenagers and young adults have been know to jump into the hole and post their actions on YouTube for all to see. One YouTube video in particular contains a warning, “Do not attempt,” as a teen, in the dead of winter, tries to align his jump just right in order to miss the rocks below.
A majority of the locals who spoke to the Times this week said there should be a sign in the area warning people of the depth and danger that lies ahead, or a fence closing the area off to the public should be erected to prevent another misfortune.
“A red caution sign [saying] ‘dangerous,’ is needed. It is my opinion that it is the parent’s responsibility to make sure their kids don’t do dangerous things, but then again, kids will be kids,” said Carole Romanyshyn of Verona.
Cedar Grove resident Alice Mundanthanam agreed.
“They should fence [Devil’s Hole] off, or give some type of warning to protect our children,” Mundanthanam said.
While Cedar Grove Councilman John Zunic said the council has not discussed the incident as a whole, he reflected on last week’s accidential drowning and said it was sad that “kids wanting to go out for a swim, expecting to have fun, could [turn into] such a tragic event.
“I can’t imagine what the parents are going through,” he added.
Soon-to-be Mayor Romeo Longo also extended his sympathies to Agyei’s family.
“It was a tragedy that happened. It’s a shame that a lifeline was put out so early,” Longo said.
The Times also reached out to Councilman Joseph Chiusolo and Township Manager Tom Tucci, but the calls were not returned by press time.