Assemblies warns kids about Pennypack Creek's dangers

Elsie Stevens, president of the Holme Circle Civic Association, stands on the footbridge over Pennypack Creek where young people have dived from and drowned. She organized school assemblies to warn students about the creek's dangers.
Elsie Stevens, president of the Holme Circle Civic Association, stands on the footbridge over Pennypack Creek where young people have dived from and drowned. She organized school assemblies to warn students about the creek's dangers. (Dan Geringer/ Daily News Staff)
Posted: May 06, 2014

ELSIE STEVENS, president of the Holme Circle Civic Association, stood on the footbridge just upstream from the Pennypack Creek dam where too many young people have drowned.

Stevens read the memorial messages handwritten in black marker on the bridge's wooden railing.

"Brandon," she read, "you're loved from the top of your head to the soles of your feet."

And, "Brandon, you're loved on this side. Most of all in heaven." She stared at the drawing of angel wings and a halo.

Three long, unpainted boards in the bridge railing were covered with R.I.P. farewells, including one that read simply, "Please learn from Brandon."

Brandon Boyle, 13, of Northeast Philadelphia, was found dead in the creek July 4, three days after he jumped into the rain-swollen waters and was swept away by powerful currents.

Stevens said that on summer days, kids jump off the footbridge into the deep, quiet pool of water created by the man-made dam before the creek continues on under the Roosevelt Boulevard Bridge near Winchester Avenue.

"After storms, the water swells and it's churning and the kids, who maybe went swimming there on a quiet day, don't realize the dangers," she said. "I was told by police that even strong swimmers can't get out of there."

Treacherous currents in the pool sweep swimmers over the dam and into the angry, deadly waters below.

Sebastien Sanon, 15, drowned in the creek weeks after Boyle died.

"After the two drownings last summer, and all the other deaths over the years, I felt I had to do something to make children aware of the creek's dangers," Stevens said.

With her board's approval and Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey's help, Stevens set up assemblies at Robert Pollock Elementary School (last week), at Father Judge High School (this Friday at 1 p.m.) and at St. Jerome's Catholic School (May 20 at 9:30 a.m.).

Speakers include Philadelphia Police Lt. Andrew Napoli, who has been with the Marine Unit for 10 years, and Beth Simonetti-Gallelli, mother of Father Judge student Nicky Simonetti, 15, who drowned in the creek in 1996, along with his best friend, Cristopher Busse, 16.

The boys had jumped off the footbridge and were swept over the dam into the whirlpool below.

"It takes a special person to stand in front of children and talk about a loved one who drowned," said Stevens, grateful that Simonetti-Gallelli is willing to do so.

As Stevens spoke, two mallards swam by in the pool above the dam. Fishermen relaxed on the creek banks. It all looked so peaceful.

But at the base of the dam, the whitewater was furious, confirming the wisdom of the message on the bridge: "Please learn from Brandon."


On Twitter: @DanGeringer

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