Two brothers, both Mexican citizens, drowned late Tuesday afternoon when one fell into the Tygart Valley River below a set of falls and the other jumped in to try and save him, authorities said.

Their identities are being withheld until their families can be notified, police said. The men appeared to be in their mid- to late-20s, said Detective Shawn Mathews of the Marion Sheriff’s department.

“Apparently one man was trying to cross the rocks (over the falls) when one fell in and the other went after him,” Mathews said.

The wife of one of the men and her son, about 2, spoke only Spanish, he said.

She quickly became upset during the rescue attempt. Mathews had to restrain her at one point from trying to reach her husband while paramedics and emergency medical technicians with the Marion County Rescue Squad were trying to revive him.

The family had just come to the area from Washington State three weeks ago looking for a job. The man’s younger brother had been working in Fairmont for about three years, the detective said.

Mathews led the wife away from the makeshift emergency room, set up in the shade of a large tree on a garage-size boulder on the north bank of the river.

When efforts to revive him stopped, Mathews quietly told her he had died. She again rushed to her husband’s side, tugging off a white sheet that was wrapped around his head. Hugging his face in her arms, she bowed her own head in grief on his chest.

Police don’t know if the men could understand the many warning signs that line the paths to the falls. In English, the signs state there are “hazardous currents” and that wading and swimming are banned.

Park Superintendent Ron Fawcett said “one man evidently fell off the center rock in the second set of falls, and the other man dove off to try and help him. Unfortunately, the undertow sucked both of them back underneath the falls.”

Using their knowledge of the currents underneath the second set of falls, divers with the Marion County Water Rescue Team found the husband and father about a half hour after the drownings were first reported at 4:21 p.m. The other man, his younger brother, was found within about an hour.

Rescue squad paramedics and emergency medical technicians worked intensely for more than a half hour to try to revive the older brother.

Javier Garcia, a Spanish teacher at East Fairmont High School, was called to the scene to help police and rescue workers talk to the woman.

The woman spoke only Spanish, Mathews said. He said he needed time to interview her when she had a chance to regain some of her composure.

Although the river was not running high, Fawcett said the current at the falls is always dangerous. He has managed the small, day-use park about 13 miles east of Fairmont for nearly 13 years. Tuesday’s double drowning “is my sixth and seventh here in that time,” he said.

Fawcett estimates the river was flowing over the three sets of falls in the park at about 35 miles per hour.

“This water is dangerous not only because of the undertow and speed of the current, but it’s also cold,” he said.

“If you spend more than 15 minutes in the water, you can develop hypothermia,” Fawcett said. It takes about two hours for the water to reach the falls from the Tygart Valley Dam upstream in Grafton. The water that is released from the dam is coming from a depth of about 141 feet during the summer, he said. It’s cold year round, he said.

Just last month, the county’s water rescue team, made up of divers and other volunteers from the Winfield District, Valley and the Barrackville VFDs, practiced their swift water rescue skills in rapids downstream of the falls, Fawcett said.

The dive team’s familiarity with the river bottom, the undertows and the likely places where drowning victims get hung up led to the recovery of the victims’ bodies, he said.

“Most of these divers are very familiar with the rocks, the depths, the cold and the current,” Fawcett said.

Rebecca Hawranick, 19, of Rock Lake, had bought a friend, Matthew Ashcraft, also 19, from Athens, Ohio, to see the falls.

Both attend Ohio University in Athens.

They were coming down a path to the falls when she said she saw and heard a man in the water yelling. Other park visitors — she thinks they were across the river on the other bank — were “yelling and encouraging him and trying to help him,” she said.

“Then they were just yelling for help and for someone to call 911,” Hawranick said. There is no cell phone service on the river banks.

She got in her car and drove slightly more than a mile to the top of the steep hill overlooking the falls and the park office. She found Fawcett and told him what had happened, she said.

“That’s when we made the call.”

E-mail Bill Byrd at

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