Weekend Drownings at the Off-Sets

Weekend Drownings at the Off-Sets
By: CJ Cassidy

Madison County, Mo. -- Madison County investigators look in to two weekend drownings at The Off-Sets.  The Off-Sets is a popular summer hot spot just past Fredericktown, Missouri where people go to swim and cliff dive.

Police say one victim fell off the bluffs. The other allegedly died after jumping off the bluffs.
Investigators do not know if alcohol played a part in the deaths yet.  They are still waiting on autopsy and toxicology results.

Madison County Sheriff David Lewis says he deals with alcohol related issues at the privately owned Off-Sets all the time.  He hopes these deaths serve as a much needed wake-up call to the owner and people who come to have fun.

"It's an abandoned lead mine - filled up with spring water. There are bluffs all around, you can dive and jump off of," Owner Gary Henson says.
Despite the weekend drownings, crowds of people flocked to the Off-Sets to spend their Labor Day holiday - doing exactly what police say the victims did before they died.
"I was really hesitant about coming because that was devastating," Lena from St. Louis, says. But she did change her mind eventually.
"I know we don't get out of control - people die everywhere,' she says.
"There's really not a lot you can do if you've got bluffs and water - people jumping and diving off bluffs into water 50 feet high, if you hit wrong, it's going to hurt," Henson says.
Still, Henson knows a lot can go wrong. That's why he posted some rules and makes visitors sign waivers to let them know they enter at their own risk, especially when they mix in alcohol.
He says a jury found him not guilty in a wrongful death lawsuit years ago, when a man broke his neck and died after jumping off a bluff.
"You just need to be careful and don't drink too much," Henson says.
Sheriff Lewis says the problems don't stop when people leave the Off-Sets.
"We've arrested numerous driving while intoxicated, possession by minors and drugs over the past ten and a half years. I think banning alcohol's a step in the right direction, but then the owner would lose some of his business," Lewis says.
Visitors agree things can sometimes get a little chaotic, but they say it's up to them to try and stay safe.
"I don't think they should ban drinking, just monitor it a little more, and make sure people aren't drinking too much," Frank Ryan of St. Louis says.
The owner says he plans on revising the alcohol rules for next year, after they close for the winter.
He says he would welcome sheriff's deputies patrolling the site.
The Sheriff says because it's private property some of his deputies have been turned away at times, so that would make quite a big difference.