The 17-year-old Cleveland youth is believed to have been caught in the powerful discharge channel from the nearby GenOn Energy power plant as he waded in Lake Erie at Miller Road Park beach about 6:45 p.m. Sunday. Phoeur was with Randy Cham, his 24-year-old uncle, who was rescued by Kevin Powers, another swimmer and Allison DiGiandomenico, Power’s wife.
Cham couldn’t be reached for comment Monday, but Powers said an exhausted Cham told people after his rescue that he couldn’t swim.
“He said that the ground dropped off for both of them,” Powers said. “He could hardly catch his breath and talk very (well).”
Phoeur’s relatives couldn’t be reached for comment Monday. However, Thavu Phoung, a family friend who said she has known Phoeur since his birth, said relatives told her Phoeur couldn’t swim. Phoung, 39, said relatives were present when Phoeur’s body was spotted by plant employees floating near the beach around 6:20 a.m. Monday.
Phoeur drowned near the reef by the 763-megawatt, coal-fired plant. People like swimming by the plant because the water it emits is warm, but it creates a powerful — and sometimes deadly — undertow.
Powers, a 42-year-old Avon Lake resident, said people who live in the area are aware of the dangers, but out-of-towners like Phoeur often aren’t. In 2009, an East Cleveland man drowned while fishing near the plant. In 2007, two Elyria men and a North Ridgeville man drowned within a three-month period, prompting calls for hiring a lifeguard at the beach.
Several beachgoers on Sunday questioned the wisdom of the beach remaining a swim at your own risk area. “How many people have to drown before they hire a lifeguard?” asked one beachgoer.
Phoung said Phoeur’s relatives were taking the death hard. She said they were already planning his graduation party from Cleveland’s John Marshall High School in June.
Phoung, said Phoeur was close with Somnang Phoung, her 18-year-old son, and the two played basketball together. She said Phoeur was very involved with Buddhist ceremonies in the community.
“He was a very nice kid,” said Phoung, 39. “It’s sad that this thing has to happen. I hope he’s in a better place now.”
Contact Evan Goodenow at 329-7129 or firstname.lastname@example.org.