On Saturday, May 20, a sunny day on the Ohio River for two young Pittsburghers turned into a nightmarish accident, which most pass through life without seeing, save for the big screen.
Nature-loving 25-year-olds Helene Brandy and Brittany Evans posed for a selfie on kayaks, smiling in front of a tranquil backdrop of the Sewickley Bridge and a blue sky. The two former co-workers took advantage of the nice weather to paddle the river on kayaks Helene’s boyfriend had bought as a gift.
Just over one more mile downstream, the women’s lives came to a heart-aching halt when the current swept them over the concrete wall of the Dashields Dam, pushing the screaming pair down a 10-foot vertical drop into a churning “boil” capable of ensnaring a jet ski. This “true drowning machine,” as noted by the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission in its Boating Handbook, killed Brittany, whose body was recovered that night, and has left the Brandy family frantically searching for Helene four full days after the incident.
If these women, along with nearly 30 other victims of Dashields, had seen the small white marker buoys and painted signs warning of danger as they coasted toward the only fixed-crest dam in service on this river, it was not soon enough. The dam, which looks like the edge of an infinity pool, is the only one that does not have a superstructure above it and is recognized as being invisible to those upstream. One big red “DANGER DAM” sign is painted on a concrete wall directly in line with the dam’s treacherous crest, an untimely warning.
Today, Kathie and Bruce Brandy remain at the Glenwillard Boat Club, desperately waiting on and now fighting for the recovery of their only daughter. The attention of local news outlets has been the main driver of rescue efforts, which have only covered the water’s surface. The Sunday morning after she was reported missing, not one official met with Helene’s friends and family at the river to help with their search until the news showed up and began making calls.
After showing friends and family the battered life vest that was meant to save Helene the following Tuesday, those leading the rescue efforts have officially turned their attention toward recovery. However, protocol states that after spending a certain amount of resources toward a rescue, the county will not allocate funds for the cost of recovery. In order to pull their daughter from the perilous waters to finally lay her to rest, Kathie, a senior home care provider, and Bruce, the owner of Boo-Bears Chimney Cleaning, are expected to foot the bill.
Allegheny County and our prized Steel City have failed. They failed the nauseating number of people who lost their lives on this dam and the loved ones left behind. They’re failing to give this distraught family a chance at closure because they have failed to liberate this young woman from their poorly-designed “drowning machine”.
So, we are asking you to please help us fight for Helene. A Pittsburgh native, former Pitt cheerleader and a genuine delight for anyone who has had the chance to meet her, Helene was a bright, strong social butterfly and a dedicated fan of all things Black and Yellow. She has been left down there alone, with her family battling through the crippling pain of their loss to bring their baby girl home. We need all the help we can get to show this family that while the system has failed repeatedly, the community can still join together to have their backs and put a stop to their torment.
Please keep Helene, Bruce, Kathie and Nick Brandy in your thoughts and prayers.