Climbers perish in Hopewell

February 19, 1993

Climbers perish in Hopewell

Princeton cops try, but fail to save electrocution victims

By Charles Toutant and John P. McAlpin

Staff Writers

Two Princeton Township cops did their “very best” to save one of the two Hopewell teens electrocuted by fallen power lines Wednesday while climbing in the isolated Cradle Rock area, police said.

Hopewell Township police and the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office were still trying to determine Thursday how the 19-year-olds came in contact with the 26,000-volt wire that killed them.

Keith J. Combs, of Harbourton-Rocktown Road in Hopewell Township, was pronounced dead at 5 p.m. at the popular rock climbing area that straddles the Hopewell-Princeton border near Province Line Road.

Rescuers tried to revive David Hutchinson, of East Prospect Street in Hopewell Borough. He died at 6:10 p.m. in the Medical Center at Princeton.

Princeton Township Officer Scott Walter, responding to a report of a brush fire caused by the downed power line, was the first to discover the two victims.

When the fire call came through. he had no idea anyone was in the area. But after running up the hill about a quarter mile from where he left his patrol car, he soon spotted the fire.

Near the edge of the woods, he found a white pickup truck. He then looked over to see the two bodies, roughly 20 feet from the face of the rock, he said.

“I didn’t expect to find two un-conscious people at the top of the hill,” Officer Walter said.

The officer tried to rouse the two men, but neither responded.

After checking each for signs of life, Officer Walter said he made the decision to concentrate efforts on saving Mr. Hutchinson.

“Just as I was beginning CPR, Sgt. Savalli arrived on the scene and we began two-man CPR,” Officer Walter said.

Less than four minutes later, Hopewell Township emergency workers arrived and continued the life-saving measures.

The two victims were believed to have driven to the popular rock-climbing area in a white Chevrolet pickup, which was left on Province Line Road, Hopewell Police Lt. Mike Chipowsky said.

No foul play is suspected, nor are drugs or alcohol believed to have played a role in the deaths, he said.

Public Service Electric & Gas crews were dispatched to the scene for the delicate task of removing the downed wire, which was arcing when police arrived.

“We know it apparently came loose from an insulator,” PSE&G spokesman Neil Brown said Wednesday night. “How it came loose we just don’t know yet,” he said.

The brush fire was quickly extinguished, he said.

Firetrucks and ambulances from Princeton and Hopewell had difficulty reaching the upaved, muddy segment of Province Line Road near where the men were found.

“It’s just a dirt road,” Officer Walter said.

Every year, Princeton Township officers go through additional CPR training.

Officer Walter, who became a patrolman in 1989. said he has been certified for the past five years.

He is scheduled for his yearly training course next week.

“It was very disheartening.” Officer Walter said. “But you do as much as you can. I did the best that I could.”

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