Parents, DNR warn of dangers of low-head dams

Two Franklin teens drowned over weekend

INDIANAPOLIS - Low-head dams are a danger few are aware of, but one that claimed the lives of two Franklin teenagers after they were caught in a dangerous current last week.

On Friday, 17-year-old Jason Moran drowned while trying to rescue a friend from a dam on the Big Blue River in Edinburgh. On Wednesday, another teen, 16-year-old Michael Chadbourne, died at an Indianapolis hospital from injuries he sustained in the same swimming incident.

Their deaths have called into question the need for low-head dams. The family of Moran, whose body was recovered on Sunday, said they now know how dangerous the dams can be.

"I would have dragged them out of there," said Chris Moran, Jason's uncle. "There would have been no discussion about it."

The dams can be found on rivers across the state. Some control water flow, while others generate electricity. In high water situations, experts say the base of the dam acts like a washing machine – currents rapidly pulling up and down in a circular motion. It's a cycle that can continue indefinitely.

"Law enforcement and first responders, when the levels are up, we refer to them as drowning machines, because they have the ability to take a victim and essentially drown them," said DNR Conservation Officer Jet Quillen.

Low-head dams are generally small structures, usually no more than 10 feet high and have no gates or water control devices. When viewed upstream, they appear peaceful, but in high water situations they're deadly.

"Understand the nature of these low-head dams, and if they water's up and moving fast, stay away from them," Quillen said.

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