Huntington, WV Three Youths and Two Firemen Drown in Ohio River, May 1948

Swift Current Carries Craft Against Barge When Engine Fails

By Charles H. Tucker

Two Huntington firemen and three unidentified youths were drowned this morning in the Ohio River at the foot of 26th Street.

The firemen, Lieutenant Leonard Hartz, 39, and Fireman W. Ernest Booth, about 37, lost their lives in attempting to rescue the three boys.

Today was Lieutenant Hartz's 39th birthday.

Witnesses reported each drowning occurred in a similar manner. Detective Sergeants Azel T. Bryant and Clifford Jarrell, who accompanied the fire rescue squad to the scene, said an outboard motor on the firemen's boat failed to start and the boat was carried by swift current into a barge belonging to the Ohio River Company.

The boat struck the barge sideways and overturned, they said.

"Both men jumped from the boat in an attempt to swim to shore, but were carried under the steel barge by swift currents and undertow," they added.

Detective Sergeant Cecil [Kenwick?] said he saw one of the victims pass between barges about 100 feet from where he went under.

None of the five bodies had been recovered an hour after the drownings.

Ohio River Co. employees said about 20 of the large steel barges were tied up at the scene.

Bobby Gibson, 13, of 36 rear 24th Street, said he and another man saw the three boys disappear under the same barges.

"We were on the bank digging fishing worms and saw the three boys trying to row away from the barges," he said. "The current carried the boat into the side of one of them, and all three disappeared."

Another employee of the Ohio Company said a man came running to him and said that three boys were about to drown.

"I went to the scene as fast as I could, but by the time I got there they had disappeared. I then called the fire department."

The call was received at the fire department at about 9:10 A.M. Firemen Hartz and Booth were drowned about 9:30 A.M.

Rivermen reported at about 10:30 A.M. that the bodies probably would not be recovered for some time as they were believed to be on the bottom. The water at that point is about 14 feet deep.

A package of cigarettes, believed to have belonged to one of the firemen, was seen floating on the water a short time later, and a gasoline can used in the rescue boat was picked up several hundred yards down river.

Lieutenant Hartz was married and has two boys. He resided in the 3700 block of Piedmont Road. Fireman Booth was single. He made his home in the 100 block of Jackson Avenue.

The Gibson youth said he was too far away to recognize any of the three youths who were swept under earlier.

Fire department members and Ohio River Co. employees were dragging the river at noon.

Lieutenant Hartz, who was appointed to that rank in the fire department last August, was a veteran of two years' service with the U.S. Coast Guard before his discharge in September, 1945, and had been with the department for many years.

He was active in music groups both in Huntington and elsewhere. He played the French horn in the Huntington Symphony Orchestra and during his service with the Coast Guard he played in service bands at St. Louis and Louisville. He was also an organist and choir director at Vinson Memorial Christian Church.

A graduate of Huntington High School, he was a member of the B'Nai Israel congregation and the Huntington B'nai B'rith Lodge, and also of the Improved Order of Red Men.

Both of the drowned firemen were veterans of World War II. The lieutenant had been a member of the fire department since January, 1938.

Lieutenant Hartz and fireman Booth served in World War II under special leave of absence from the fire department. The lieutenant won his promotion to that rank in a competitive civil service examination following his return from war service.

Fireman Booth was appointed to the department in August, 1942. He served in the Army for four years. He is survived by his mother, Mrs. Nancy Booth of Huntington, two sisters, Mrs. John Galligher of Huntington, and another sister, and a brother, Mate Booth of Huntington.

Fireman Booth was unmarried.

From the May 24, 1948 edition of the Huntington Herald Dispatch



Training of fire department rescue personnel will be "intensified and enlarged" to include water rescue work, Chief Crouse said this morning as members of the department continued today to drag the Ohio River at the foot of 26th Street for the bodies of three boys believed to have been drowned Saturday morning.

In an attempt to rescue the boys, Fire Lieutenant Leonard Hartz and Fireman William Ernest Booth were drowned when their motorboat was swept under a barge.

"in the future," Fire Chief Crouse said, "no member of the department will be allowed on the water without a life preserver."

He added that the department lacks "proper and complete equipment for this type of activity."

Firemen said that in the past, members of the rescue squad have received no specialized training in that line of work other than in general first aid and artificial respiration classes.

Funeral services were conducted yesterday for Lieutenant Hartz, 39, whose body was recovered early Saturday afternoon four hours after he and Fireman Booth, also 39, rushed to the Ohio River near 26th street to search for the three boys.

Booth's Rites Tomorrow

Fireman Booth, of 1158 Jackson Avenue, whose body was found yesterday, will be buried in Spurlock Cemetery on U.S. Route 52 following funeral services at 10 A.M. tomorrow at Reger Chapel.

Pallbearers will be Frank Simon, K.C. Withers, Burl Arthur, Curtis Colburn, Claude Nelson and Walter Curtis. Honorary pallbearers will be Fire Chief Floyd L. Crouse, Police Chief W.Z. Smith and other members of the police and fire departments.

Resolutions Are Drafted

Mayor Tomkies said this morning that he had requested City Attorney E.E. Winters to draw up a resolution for presentation at the city council meeting tonight in praise of the heroic action of Lieutenant Hartz and Fireman Booth in their rescue attempt. Copies of the commendation will be sent to the families of the two deceased firemen, he added.

The mayor also expressed appreciation today for the cooperation and aid that has been offered during the past two days by employees of the Ohio River Company and the American Car and Foundry Co., who have assisted in dragging activities at the scene of the tragedy.

Meanwhile, parents of three missing Guyandotte school children felt sure that the three boys reportedly drowned Saturday were their sons. The boys are John Claypool Jr., 12 and his brother, Phillip, 9, sons of Mr. and Mrs. John Claypool, 614 South High Street, and Hubert James Borders, 12, son of Mr. and Mrs. James Borders, 3607 Hilltop Drive.

Parents of the boys reported that they thought their sons had started early Saturday to caddy at a golf course but a __ently changed their minds and they decided to play around Guyandotte.

Police believe that the boys got into a johnboat in the Guyandotte River and rowed into the Ohio where the current swept their boat against a barge at 26th Street and capsized it. The boat, which was owned by Cecil Poston Jr., 705 Fifth Avenue was later recovered.

Other members of the Claypool family include a younger sister, Sharon Fay Claypool; the maternal grandfather Homer Collins, of Huntington, and the paternal grandmother, Mrs. Harry Blankenship.

In the Borders family, there are four sisters, Alice Patricia, Annabelle and Laura Mae Borders, and a half brother, Bobby Borders. Mr. Borders has been employed on a construction job at Gary and was called home Saturday night. Mr. Claypool is employed by the International Nickel Company.

The body of Fireman Booth, which was to be taken to the residence, this afternoon, will have a guard of honor consisting of members of the fire department from the time it is taken home until after the funeral service.

He was a member of American Legion Post 16 and of the International Association of Fire Fighters and before joining the fire department, he taught in Cabell County schools.

Surviving him are his widowed invalid mother, Mrs. Nancy Booth, with whom he made his home; two sisters, Mrs. John Gallagher, wife of a Huntington fire captain, and Mrs. Eunice Harber of Columbus, and a brother, Mate Booth of Huntington.

From Huntington Herald Dispatch, 25 May 1948