A picnic Tuesday evening, May 29 with family and friends near the Belmont Hills Country Club west of St. Clairsville resulted in the tragic drowning of a Barnesville resident who friends identified as Dennis Schmitt, age 32. Officials declined to confirm the victim’s identity pending an autopsy by press deadline last Thursday evening.
Schmidt decided to take a swim in the two-acre lake that supplies irrigation water for the golf course and apparently became entangled in the thick seaweed that fills the body of water.
Recovery operations were halted Friday, June 1 afternoon after a three-day futile search. Belmont County Sheriff Dave Lucas at a press conference that afternoon said, "We have exhausted all of our local resources."
At that press conference also were Belmont County Coroner Investigator Tim Skinner, Cumberland Trail Fire Chief John Slavik, Belmont and Ohio County Emergency Management Agency directors Dave Ivan and Lou Vargo and Wheeling Fire Captain Tom Fedderus.
The search included the Guernsey County Sherriff’s Office air boat, scanning sonar, and cadaver sniffing dogs. Also aiding the search was the Ohio County’s regional dive team and a private company from Pennsylvania. Thought was given to draining the lake, but was dismissed as impractical.
Then, on Sunday morning, a body was discovered in the water. It was removed by the county coroner’s office for proper identification and determination of death.
At the June 1 press conference, officials noted there was a "no trespassing "sign at the picnic shelter, but no "no swimming allowed" sign at the lake.