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Published: Wednesday, 8/18/2004

Deputies say camp victim attended party

BY GEORGE J. TANBER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

A 20-year-old summer camp employee from Luna Pier, Mich., who drowned in a Washtenaw County boating accident over the weekend was partying with a group of camp employees before he went for a ride in a canoe that capsized, authorities said.

The body of Mark Kerchman, Jr., was found by sheriff's divers about 11 a.m. Sunday in Dexter Township's Silver Lake in about nine hours after he was reported missing.

"We're looking into whether alcohol was a factor," sheriff's Cmdr. Dave Egeler said.

Mr. Kerchman was employed by the Boys & Girls Clubs of Toledo, which has owned Camp Big Silver on Silver Lake since 1936. Seventy-one youths were attending the camp's eighth and final

one-week session at the time, said Cathy Fynes, the club's director of resource development. Mr. Kerchman, who last summer had been a cabin leader at the camp, was hired only last week to help shut down the camp for the season, Ms. Fynes said.

"[It entails] cleaning cabins, putting away boats and water crafts - everything that involved getting the camp ready for the winter season."

Commander Egeler said either during or after the party, Mr. Kerchman asked some of the camp's 24 staff members to join him for a canoe ride. When they declined, he woke a 12-year-old camper, who joined him instead.

They set off for the Pinckney Recreation Area, about a quarter-mile across the lake. About 1:45 a.m., the canoe capsized about 200 feet from the recreation area, the commander said.

The young camper, whom authorities would not name, swam to shore on the Pinckney side.

But Mr. Kerchman tried to swim across the lake to the camp before turning back toward the recreation area. He then disappeared.

Neither the youth nor Mr. Kerchman were wearing flotation vests, Commander Egeler added.

The youth was treated at University of Michigan Hospitals before being released to his father Sunday, Ms. Fynes said.

"It's awful. You can't imagine how devastated everyone is about this. We've been doing this for 68 years, and we've never had anything like this happen," she said.

On Sunday, the camp's last day, lake activities were suspended, but all other activities went on as scheduled.

"We consulted with a Toledo-area psychologist and decided it was best to keep the kids there and continue with the normal programming. We kept them shielded as much as possible from the events that occurred," Ms. Fynes said.

Grief counseling services have been offered to camp employees and campers, but so far, no one has asked for help.

In the wake of the party allegations, Ms. Fynes said the club will review and re-evaluate its procedures. "We have a zero-tolerance policy about alcohol and drugs. The safety of our children is our No. 1 priority. But this is still under investigation," she said.

Commander Egeler said his department is awaiting the results of a toxicology test on Mr. Kerchman's body. Mr. Kerchman's family declined comment last night.

In an obituary that appeared in yesterday's Blade, Mr. Kerchman was described as an enthusiast of dirt bike racing, fishing, baseball, and football. In addition to his Camp Big Silver employment, Mr. Kerchman worked as a model for Abercrombie & Fitch clothing stores, the obituary said.

Blade staff writer Clyde Hughes contributed to this report.

Contact George J. Tanber at:

gtanber@theblade.com

or 734-241-3610.



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