17-year-old drowns in diving accident // Body found 57 feet below surface:[CITY Edition]
ALICIA CALDWELLSt. Petersburg TimesSt. Petersburg, Fla.: Jul 22, 1987.  pg. 1.3.4
Full Text (807   words)

Copyright Times Publishing Co. Jul 22, 1987

WEEKI WACHEE - Jason Tuskes was a novice scuba diver, but authorities said he and his friend should have known better than to venture into the silty underwater passages of a spring near Jenkins Creek.

The mistake he made Tuesday morning cost the 17-year-old Springstead High School student his life.

Tuskes' body was found almost six hours after he and his friend, Vincent Cusmano, 16, strapped on their gear and waded into the murky water, ignoring several conspicuous ``no diving`` signs.

Tuskes was not wearing his gear when he was found dead 57 feet below the spring's surface, Hernando Sheriff's Sgt. Frank Bierwiler said. Apparently, the teen-ager had torn off his gear in an effort to reach the surface, Bierwiler said.

Authorities theorize that Tuskes' gear got tangled in some of the many dead trees in the twisty, narrow passages beneath the swamps. Taking off his air tank may have been the youth's only hope of getting out, Bierwiler said. His gear was not recovered, Bierwiler said.

``None of the kids who were here had any business being here,`` said Sheriff's Capt. G.Z. Smith, who has been scuba diving since 1961. ``(Cave diving) is the highest level of diving when you're talking about proficiency and knowing what you're doing.``

On top of that, the teen-agers should have obeyed the signs that warn divers away from the spring, which is on county-owned property, Smith said.

The last person to see Tuskes alive was his diving buddy Cusmano. Cusmano, Tuskes and Christopher Swartz, another Springstead student, went to the spring after a diving trip in the Gulf of Mexico had been called off.

``We just thought we'd come here to cool off,`` Swartz said. ``Our primary dive had been canceled. We had been in there before, and we just wanted to see this again.``

Tuskes and Cusmano descended about 20 feet before they reached a long passage that led to a small cave, said divers familiar with the cave.

They used a light and a nylon line so they could find their way back, Cusmano said. After seeing the cave, they turned around and began ascending through a 45-foot-long sloping passage, Cusmano said.

Less than halfway through the passage, which was about 3 or 4 feet in height and about 20 feet wide, Cusmano and Tuskes were separated in the murky water, Cusmano said.

``And that was it,`` Cusmano said quietly, his voice breaking. ``That was the last I saw him.``

Cusmano said he thought his diving buddy had gone to the surface. When he broke the surface at 11:05 a.m. and didn't see Tuskes, he and Swartz hurried to the Scuba Den, a nearby dive shop.

The owner of the shop, Patrick Foss, said he called the fire department and diver rescue. A rescue diver rushed to the spring, Foss said. When the diver got there, Foss estimated that Tuskes had enough air in his tank to last him a half-hour.

Soon afterward, two other rescue divers joined the first, but they couldn't find Tuskes. Foss brought several refilled tanks of air, and the search continued for several hours.

At 4:50 p.m., after the water had cleared somewhat, rescue divers Joe Harrell, Paul Heinerth and Ken Branch found Tuskes' body in a smaller passageway off the main cave, Bierwiler said.

The spring water, which is usually crystal clear, was made murky by rainwater runoff, said Kevin Love, a Southwest Florida Water Management District supervisor.

Love and fellow Swiftmud employee Branch went to the scene of the tragedy because of their expertise in underground water flow and because they got lost in the very same network of caves and passages five years ago, they said.

Although visibility was ``zero,`` the two managed to find their way out, Branch said.

``In that particular hole, if you stir it up and put a light up to your face, you can't even see it,`` Branch said.

Jim McFarlane, who instructed Tuskes and Cusmano in their open water diving class, said Tuskes got his certification in February, and Cusmano finished in May.

McFarlane said he told the teen-agers to stay away from the spring. Cusmano and Swartz maintained that their scuba diving instructor never warned them away from it.

``We knew it was dangerous, but as long as you use caution...`` Cusmano said, his voice trailing off.

BLACK AND WHITE PHOTO; BLACK AND WHITE PHOTO, Jack Rowland, (2); COLOR PHOTO, Olie Stonerook; BLACK AND WHITE PHOTO, Olie Stonerook, (2); drownings: hernando county: 87, (4); Caption: JASON TUSKES; divers, emergency workers carry Tuskes' body from water; Marty Tuskes is comforted as she waits for news; paramedic Alan Regis helps diver Steve Wilson insert new air tank into pack as Doug Corvat, Patrick Foss look for diver;; Caption: Steve Wilson puts on air tank; Vincent Cusmano, Christopher Swartz wait from shore; Divers prepare to descend

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Diver scrawls underwater `I love you,' then dies:[CITY Edition]
CHARLOTTE SUTTONSt. Petersburg TimesSt. Petersburg, Fla.: Jul 23, 1987.  pg. 1.B
Full Text (526   words)

Copyright Times Publishing Co. Jul 23, 1987

BROOKSVILLE - Struggling for his life in a murky underwater passageway, 17-year-old scuba diver Jason Tuskes knew he had only a short time left.

He removed the oxygen tank from his back, unsheathed the diver's knife he kept at his shoulder, and scratched a message into the tank:

``I love you Mom, Dad and Christian.``

The Brooksville youth drowned Tuesday morning after he got lost in an underwater cave near Weeki Wachee. It was his mother's 42nd birthday.

Jason's body was found 57 feet beneath the surface of the water; his gear was just a few feet away. His last message was scratched into the air tank, said his family and sheriff's officials.

Jason's father struggled Wednesday to describe his son and the close relationship Jason had with his parents and his 13-year-old brother Christian.

``I can't tell you what he was like, because you'd never believe me,`` Art Tuskes said, his eyes filling with tears. ``He was so exceptional - just above and beyond.

``He was my arms and legs and sometimes my head,`` said Tuskes, who uses a wheelchair. ``We were always together. People tell us we're so private and quiet, but we had each other, and that was all we needed.``

Jason was an honor student who would have been a senior at Springstead High School this year. He also was enrolled at Pasco-Hernando Community College, where he was scheduled to receive an associate's degree next spring. His goal was to be a lawyer by age 23, his father said.

The boy also was an accomplished athlete. His bedroom is filled with 100 ribbons, medals and trophies. Last Saturday, Jason got a letter from Case-Western Reserve University in Ohio, expressing interest in having Jason, a champion swimmer, attend the school on an athletic scholar- ship.

Tuskes last saw his son Monday night.

``I was in bed resting my eyes,`` the father recalled. ``Jason came in, sat down in my wheelchair and jiggled the bed with his foot.``

The boy told his father that he received an ``A`` on a paper for a summer college course he was taking. The two talked about that and about how they would celebrate Mrs. Tuskes' birthday Tuesday by going out for dinner.

Jason left the house Tuesday morning, and his parents never saw him alive again.

The area where Jason drowned is marked with a ``no diving`` sign, but sheriff's officials said that the sign is hard to see and that its meaning may not be clear. Some people might think the sign prohibits diving headfirst from a platform rather than scuba diving, said Hernando County sheriff's Sgt. Frank Bierwiler.

When Jason's air tank was recovered, it had only enough air for a couple of minutes, said Bierwiler. Sheriff's Capt. G.Z. Smith said Jason would have had to take off the tank to scratch the words into it.

``He got wedged into a small area,`` said Bierwiler. ``It was quite murky down there. The divers (in the search) told me you couldn't see your hand in front of your face. The poor lad just didn't know which way to go.``

BLACK AND WHITE PHOTO; Caption: Jason Tuskes

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Scuba diving in caves too often turns tragic for beginners:[CITY Edition]
ALICIA CALDWELLSt. Petersburg TimesSt. Petersburg, Fla.: Jul 27, 1987.  pg. 1
Full Text (672   words)

Copyright Times Publishing Co. Jul 27, 1987

BROOKSVILLE - Almost any scuba diver can tell you that the allure of exploring an underwater world can be overpowering.

But as last week's death of Jason Tuskes showed, it can also be perilous.

Tuskes, 17, got lost Tuesday in a silty network of caves in a spring near Jenkins Creek. The Springstead High School student ran out of air and died. He had been certified to dive since February.

Unfortunately, Tuskes' death was typical of many scuba diving deaths, said John McAniff, director of the National Underwater Accident Data Center at the University of Rhode Island in Kingston, R.I.

Half of the scuba diving deaths can be attributed to young men about 18 years old venturing into underwater caves without proper training or equipment, McAniff said.

In 1985, the most recent year for which data are available, 74 Americans died scuba diving, McAniff said. Of those, 26 died in Florida, McAniff said.

``There's always a certain fascination with the unknown,`` McAniff said. ``They just go a little bit too far. They don't realize that it only takes a few kicks to stir up the silt, making visibility zero.``

Local diving experts said they hoped the enchantment of scuba diving wouldn't lead divers to undertake dives for which they aren't qualified.

``The only freshwater dive that I consider to be a good place for novice divers around here is Crystal River,`` said Rick Bertram, manager of Scuba West, who has been a diver for 25 years.

Bertram said beginning divers should not venture into the caves or caverns that are prevalent in the area. He said a deep hole in the Weeki Wachee River, known as Hospital Hole, isn't safe for beginning divers - those with an open-water certificate.

``It's a real nice dive up to about 75 or 80 feet,`` Bertram said. ``Then you see a white layer of sulfur. After you go through that layer, it's a night dive.``

The hole bottoms out in darkness at 140 feet, Bertram said. Novice divers who think they might avoid the danger of the dive by staying above the sulfur might encounter trouble if people jumping into the hole stir up the layer, Bertram said.

And novice divers usually aren't good at maintaining neutral buoyancy. That means that instead of swimming at one level, they tend to ascend and descend with less control, Bertram said.

Lt. Jerry Calhoun of the Hernando County Sheriff's Office said Eagle's Nest, once a popular diving spot north of State Road 50 and west of U.S. 19, is an advanced dive because of its depth and caverns.

The deep sinkhole is on private property, and people have not been allowed to dive there since two divers died there several years ago, Calhoun said.

``(Novice) divers don't have any business being in a cave or cavern or a wreck,`` Bertram said. ``That's a specialty dive.``

Bertram said that people who has been certified as open-water divers have a long way to go before they should be cave-diving in the area where Tuskes lost his life.

Through PADI, the largest scuba diving certifying agency, divers would have to take four more classes - about 70 hours of classroom instruction and 45 supervised dives - before they would be qualified to undertake the dive Tuskes did, Bertram said.

Divers would be required to pass courses in advanced open water, cavern diving, basic cave diving and advanced cave diving before making that dive, Bertram said.

Steve Wilson, a Spring Hill Fire and Rescue District paramedic who was the first one in the water to look for Tuskes, said it's easy to become lulled into a false sense of security.

``You know where the line is, but boys being boys and men being men, you want to cross that line,`` Wilson said. ``My wife calls it testosterone poisoning.``

``Despite cautions that instructors give to their students in Florida and elsewhere, they still do it. They still go into the caves,`` McAniff said. ``I don't know what it is, but the temptation is there.``

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Posthumous diploma to be given:[CITY Edition]
St. Petersburg TimesSt. Petersburg, Fla.: Aug 21, 1987.  pg. 3.9.3
Full Text (229   words)

Copyright Times Publishing Co. Aug 21, 1987

BROOKSVILLE - The Hernando County School Board has voted to award a high school diploma posthumously to Jason Tuskes, who drowned last month in a cave-diving accident.

Tuskes, who would have started his senior year next week, was one credit short of graduating. The board voted Tuesday to waive the credit and award the diploma next spring with Tuskes' 1988 graduating class at Springstead High School.

Authorities say in the moments before he died Jason used a knife to etch a message to his parents and his brother on his yellow air tank. It read: ``I love you mom, dad and Christian.``

Tuskes was a member of the National Honor Society. By the end of his junior year, he was only four credits short of earning an associate of arts degree at a community college, said his father, Art Tuskes.

``He wanted to graduate in '88,`` Tuskes said. ``We are elated. This is what he would have wanted.``

The father asked for the posthumous award. He said he is trying his best to preserve his son's memory. The teen-ager's photograph will be included in his senior class yearbook and his name will be called at graduation.

The yellow scuba tank Jason wore the day he drowned is in his family's living room under a spotlight, along with the knife he used to carve his farewell message.

Credit: Associated Press

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Youth's family plans suit in diving death:[CITY Edition]
CHARLOTTE SUTTONSt. Petersburg TimesSt. Petersburg, Fla.: Nov 21, 1987.  pg. 1.1
Full Text (399   words)

Copyright Times Publishing Co. Nov 21, 1987

BROOKSVILLE - An attorney for the family of Jason Tuskes, the 17-year-old diver who drowned last summer in a spring near Jenkins Creek, has notified Hernando County that the family intends to sue the county over the boy's death.

State law requires that anyone who plans to sue a governmental entity must give at least six months' notice of the intended action.

In the notice, attorney Eduardo Latour wrote that Jason's father, Art Tuskes, ``has a claim against the County of Hernando, for the wrongful death suffered by Jason Tuskes, arising out of an incident which occurred on property maintained by Hernando County.``

Latour refused to comment specifically on the basis for the lawsuit, saying that Art Tuskes had asked him not to discuss the matter.

Jason Tuskes drowned July 21 after he became stuck in a silty underwater passage near county-operated Jenkins Creek.

Before he died, Jason removed his oxygen tank and scratched the words, ``I love you, Mom, Dad and Christian`` in the tank with his diving knife. Christian Tuskes is Jason's younger brother.

At the time of the accident, the area where Jason drowned was marked with a ``No diving`` sign. However, Sheriff's Office officials said that the sign was hard to see and that its meaning was unclear.

Since the sign was situated high in a tree that had a diving platform, Sheriff's Office officials speculated that it could have been understood to forbid platform diving, not scuba diving.

``I can tell you one thing,`` Sheriff's Capt. G.Z. Smith said at the time. ``We wouldn't have enforced that`` sign.

Tuskes and the mother of one of Jason's diving companions said that a phone call had been placed to the County Recreation Department a few days before the accident inquiring whether scuba diving was permitted at the spring. They said that a woman at the department replied that the sign referred only to platform diving.

County parks and recreation director Pat Fagan checked his department's phone logs and could not find a record of such a call, he said at the time.

Tuskes said earlier Friday that he was not familiar with any litigation since Latour, a family friend, has been handling the matter. He said he was not aware that a notice had been filed with the county.

County Attorney Bruce Snow could not be reached for comment.


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Subsequent letter to the Editor on Nov 27, 1987:

As if one tragedy, the death of Jason Tuskes, isn't enough, now this young man's grief-stricken family plans to sue Hernando County. Why? Is the county responsible for the activities of every single person within its boundaries? Absurd. As time goes on, it appears that fewer and fewer people have backbone enough to stand up and take responsibility for their actions. I urge them to drop their suit against the county and take the painful responsibility for this tragedy. As the father of a 2-week-old boy, I can only imagine what it would be like to lose him, and incidents such as this remind me of the awesome responsibility of raising children. My heartfelt sympathy goes out to the Tuskeses.

Note fome ME: The Tuskes came to their senses and the suit was later dropped.