ELYRIA — Moments before he jumped off a ledge into the old Republic Steel quarry around 2:25 p.m. Tuesday, Amir Elkhatib told two Elyria teens, “If I drown, call 911.”
A few minutes later, Elkhatib, who jumped into the quarry with three buddies, was in trouble.
“Halfway across, he said he couldn’t do it,” Isaac Jones said. “We said, ‘We’re coming,’ and jumped in.”
The 13-year-old Elyria teen was at the quarry’s edge with a friend, Delmar Board, also 13, when he said Elkhatib, 21, of Westlake; Adam Abukhater, 21, of Rocky River; Mohammed Salieman, 21; and Mahmoud Sulieman, 20, both of North Olmsted, walked up to the quarry to swim. The quarry is between Riverside Drive and West River Road S. near West 11th Street.
Jones and Board talked about the incident as they gazed across the quarry as Elkhatib was tended to by Elyria firefighters who had rappelled down a rock ledge to reach him. Firefighters Robert Atkinson, Nick Bezbatchenko and John Vencl were the main firefighters involved in the rescue, according to fire Capt. James Cawley. The men were later charged with trespassing, according to police.
Isaac said he swam to the foursome to help Elkhatib.
“He was coughing and spitting out water,” said Isaac, a student at Northwood Junior High School.
Elkhatib appeared to recover and continued on for a few moments before he began struggling again in the water.
“He went back under,” Isaac said. “He kept sinking three or four times. He was breathing real hard.”
Isaac and one of Elkhatib’s friends pulled him by the hands while Elkhatib’s other companions pushed him from behind.
Delmar, who is home-schooled, called 911 after the group shouted to him to get help. Once they swam to the other side of the five-acre quarry and got out of the water, one of Elkhatib’s friends held up his head as firefighters tended to him from a rock ledge a few feet above the waterline.
Cawley said Elkhatib appeared exhausted and possibly dehydrated when firefighters treated him. Elkhatib was treated and released from MetroHealth Medical Center in Cleveland, according to Sulieman.
The ledge is in the southwest corner of the quarry and is about 2 to 3 feet wide, according to police Officer Jacob Webber’s report.
Isaac, who described himself as a confident swimmer, said he and Delmar don’t frequent the quarry very often.
The fact that the quarry acts as a magnet for local teens and children was borne out by the appearance of three teenaged boys in swim trunks who appeared atop the same rock ledge about a half-hour after the other teens jumped into the water.
“You kids have five minutes to get the hell out of the quarry or go to jail like these four who thought it was a good idea,” a firefighter shouted at them as rescuers worked to get Elkhatib up the rock face.
The three North Olmsted teens quickly walked off the ledge a few moments later and were charged with trespassing.
Nearby residents who walked to the riverbank near the quarry confirmed its popularity with kids.
“There’s 50 to 60 kids who swim there all day long,” Betty Stull said. “I tell them all the time someone is going to drown.”
The quarry is surrounded by seven acres of fenced land, according to a news release from Region 5 of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on cleanup at the site.
The steel plant discharged waste pickle liquor and rinse water comprised of sulfuric acid and dissolved metal oxides into the quarry on a daily basis in 1950 to 1975. A third five-year review of the facility completed by the EPA in 2008 concluded the cleanup effort “protects human health and the environment.”
The statement also noted that “fencing and warning signs need to be improved to discourage trespassing.”
Cawley said he hopes would-be swimmers at the quarry will think better of it in the future.
“The bottom line is — this is an area that is fenced and clearly marked as a no-swim area,” Cawley said.
Reporter Evan Goodenow contributed to this story. Contact Steve Fogarty at 329-7146 or email@example.com.