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Stay Out Stay Alive Fatal Accident Summaries
for 2011


Modesto Bee
Mine divers weren't rookies
4 men on deadly outing had many hours in the water
By Kevin Valine and Erin Tracy

The four men whose weekend scuba diving outing ended with two of them dead were experienced divers, family and authorities said Tuesday.

The men were diving in the Jamestown Mine, an abandoned 500-foot-deep, open-pit mine off Harvard Mine Road.

"None of them were rookie divers," said Keith Cobb, whose stepson, Lodi resident Dale Allen Dedic, 34, died. The other diver who died was Stockton resident Jamie Pollard, 37. "They all knew what they were doing."

The two other divers are Stockton residents Cameron Wheeler, 41, and Robert Arnold, 46. They could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Cobb said the four were diving buddies and were practicing in the abandoned mine filled with cold, clear water.

"It's the closest place with deep water," he said, adding that his stepson had dived there a few times before Saturday's accident.

The mine's water has a clarity that rivals that of Lake Tahoe.

Tuolumne County sheriff's Sgt. Jeff Wilson said Dedic and Pollard are presumed to have drowned. Wilson said autopsies had been scheduled.

Wilson said the four men were experienced divers; two were classified as basic divers and two as technical divers. He did not know which divers had which classifications.

"That's the big question of the day," Wilson said when asked what went wrong. "We are trying to locate someone who is an expert in the equipment these guys were using to see if there was a mechanical issue and for the autopsy results to see if, besides drowning, there was a health impairment that contributed to their deaths."

Pollard knew the family that owns the mine. The part of the mine where the men were diving is owned by Jamestown resident Gary Wilson, who is not related to the sheriff's sergeant.

"Gary is very saddened by this," said Kurt Vander Weide, a spokesman for Wilson and the development group that wants to convert the mine into a tourist attraction called Yosemite Gardens Park. "This is just heartbreaking."

The accident unfolded Saturday afternoon.

The Sheriff's Department said that at a depth of 135 feet, Pollard panicked and Dedic came to his aid. Cobb said Pollard was using too much air from his tank and his stepson, Dedic, shared his mouthpiece with Pollard.

Wheeler helped Pollard to the surface, where he appeared to be fine. Wheeler then returned to the water to decompress and find Dedic, authorities said. But Wheeler did not find Dedic and assumed he had surfaced.

At 3:14 p.m., authorities said, a man named John called 911 to report that Pollard may have drowned. Shortly afterward, Wheeler called 911 to report that Dedic was missing.

Sgt. Wilson said it's not clear what role the other diver, Arnold, played in the events.

Pollard was pronounced dead at Sonora Regional Medical Center. Dedic's body was recovered from the water Monday afternoon.

While authorities still are piecing together what happened, a diving expert said the sport is inherently dangerous.

"It's the same thing as skydiving," said Phil Caterino, dive director of the Tahoe Diving Conservancy. "You can have people with a thousand jumps and nothing happens. You just never know."

Caterino said decompression sickness — or the bends — and nitrogen narcosis are two common hazards. He said if divers need to ascend before decompressing, gas bubbles can form in the body and cause severe pain, paralysis or even death.

He said with nitrogen narcosis, a diver can behave as though he were drunk or in a euphoric state. Caterino said he has seen divers in such a state remove their mouthpieces or act overly confident.

Cobb said his stepson, who worked as a truck driver for a drywall company, was friendly and outgoing and loved diving, a sport he took up several years ago.

"Dale was learning how to become an instructor," Cobb said. "Dale went by the book."