Area of Pennypack Creek where boy drowned is a longtime swimming spot

ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Cameron Carlucci , 21, looks over the bridge crossing Pennypack Creek near the spot where Brandon Boyle jumped into the creek.
ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Cameron Carlucci , 21, looks over the bridge crossing Pennypack Creek near the spot where Brandon Boyle jumped into the creek.
Posted: July 08, 2013

THE STRETCH of Pennypack Creek off Axe Factory Lane where Brandon Boyle drowned was calm yesterday. The 13-year-old boy's body had been found the day before, the rescuers were gone and the water above the falls where he went missing Monday was as still as a millpond.

On the Bustleton side of the bridge from which he had jumped in, a sign dedicated the spot "In loving memory of Brandon," along with a red balloon, a blue balloon and a small teddy bear tied to a tree. On the Rhawnhurst side, friends had written messages on balloons to the boy they described as a "shooting star." A few feet away, a makeshift ladder of wooden boards remained nailed into a tree trunk that extended over the water, a troubling reminder of the rampant but prohibited swimming that led to Brandon's death.

"This isn't the first time or the last time something like this has happened," said Lauren McBrearty, 25, a lifelong Mayfair resident who said she swam in the creek as a kid along with all the other kids.

Brandon's body was recovered from the creek just beyond the small but swift falls where he went under while he and his brother were swimming, Health Department spokesman Jeff Moran said yesterday. The brother, Anthony, 11, tried to save Brandon but the current was too strong.

McBrearty's friend, Jackie Slack, 27, also a lifelong resident of Mayfair, said the creek and surrounding park are an oasis for Philly residents, many of whom come from other sections of the city to swim there.

"Pennypack is a nice getaway from the city," Slack said. "It's like a beach to people."

For others in the area, the creek has always been considered too dangerous for swimming.

Cameron Carlucci, 21, of Mayfair, who uses the park for walking and jogging, said he often sees children and teenagers swimming in the creek. But growing up in the neighborhood, he said, he never went swimming there because it was dangerous.

"Now it looks calm," Carlucci said. "But during a rainstorm it picks up." The drowning happened after several days of heavy rain.

Carlucci said swimming in the creek was widely accepted in the community, even among parents.

"It'll keep going" despite Brandon's death, he predicted.

A similar tragedy happened three years ago in the same spot in Pennypack Creek. In July 2010, the rain-swollen creek claimed the life of a 20-year-old man tossed from a raft. Earlier that day, firefighters had rescued another man from the turbulent waters in an unrelated accident in Holmesburg.

"It's very dangerous, I don't know how they do it," said Kam Omar, 57, of Rhawnhurst, the neighborhood where Brandon lived. Omar arrived a year ago from his native Iraq, where, he said, he went swimming in rivers as a kid. However, he said Pennypack is too dangerous because of the large rocks.

Omar said his son attends school with one of Brandon's brothers. He said that his son had described Brandon as "nice, a beautiful boy."

As Omar spoke yesterday near the spot where Brandon disappeared, two younger boys sped past on bikes. They stopped on the bridge where Brandon had jumped in, looked over the edge and then rode away.

On Twitter: @JCMoritzTU

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