BIDWELL, Ohio — Anyone who has ever seen the tide rush out knows it reveals the unseen.
Though Tycoon Lake in Gallia County’s Raccoon Township doesn’t have to worry about the tide, its shoreline has been receding since last year due to construction work on its dam and boat launch, revealing what has been mostly covered since the 1960s.
On Wednesday, Bill Lambert and Michael Royer of Gallia County, were scouting fishing locations and wanted to check out the status of the water level at Tycoon, which is known for its Bass. While near the boat launch, which is now surrounded by mud and dirt, Royer noticed something in the lake bed that looked, at first, like a chunk of ordinary concrete, but upon closer inspection was muddied marble. He said it resembled a grave marker in many ways. With Lambert’s encouragement, he flipped over the piece of stone with the leverage of another rock. Once the mud was wiped from the marble, it revealed Greek lettering, the word “accident,” three names and a date.
“Bill walked over (to a nearby part of the lake bed) and found the top (of the monument, which was a large cross),” Royer said. “I picked it up and stuck it on top (of the base), and it fit like a jigsaw puzzle.”
With the two pieces of the monument reassembled there was no doubt “it was a perfect fit,” said Lambert.
Though the pieces fit, the monument was definitely out of place.
“Why would a piece of marble be at the bottom of a lake?” Lambert said, guessing it would take more than one man to carry, and dump, that heavy stone. “I was interested to know how it got there…it had to belong to somebody, I knew that.”
The two left Tycoon Lake and stopped by the Gallipolis Daily Tribune office, with photos of the curious discovery.
“Somebody needed to know it was there because it belonged to someone,” Lambert said, explaining they hoped the newspaper could help get the word out.
With the date, 1989, the Greek lettering, and the names as clues, after some digging into the Tribune archives, it was discovered the monument was connected to a tragic accident that killed three University of Rio Grande students.
A story by writer Dick Thomas, titled “Three RGC students die in car wreck,” in the Wednesday, Feb. 8, 1989 edition of the Tribune, revealed some of the mystery.
The story began, “Three Rio Grande College students died in a one-car accident at 10:45 p.m. Tuesday on State Route 325, one mile south of Rio Grande, according to the State Highway Patrol.”
The victims in the tragic crash were identified as Joseph H. Bitonte, 22, of North Columbus, Ohio, Shane McCoy, 20, of Peebles, Ohio, Richard N. Hanson, 20, West Union, Ohio. A fourth student was injured but survived the crash, Todd A. Reigle, 20, Toledo, Ohio.
The four had been fraternity brothers with Alpha Sigma Phi, while at Rio.
The story continued as follows:
Officials said all four occupants were thrown from the vehicle. The patrol said the accident occurred when a 1986 Ford Escort GT driven south on SR 325, by Bitonte went off the right side of the road into a ditch. The vehicle became airborne and rolled several times after landing, according to the patrol, the car was demolished. The triple tragedy had a stunning impact on the Rio Grande student body. Late Tuesday night, counselors and staff held sessions with students trying to console their grief.
A special service, which one college official said was not a memorial service, was held Wednesday morning at the college.
College officials said Bitonte was a senior majoring in communications and public relations; McCoy, a junior, majoring in business administration; Hanson, a sophomore, majoring in elementary education, and Reigle, a sophomore, majoring in drafting.
After connecting the monument with Rio, the Tribune then contacted Roy Rucker, wildlife officer with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, which has jurisdiction over Tycoon Lake. Rucker said he, along with Officer Richard Harrison with the Rio Campus Police Department, pulled the monument out of the lake bed and it had been taken to the department’s office on campus.
On Thursday, Renee DeLawder, director of marketing and communications at Rio, said the monument was originally placed by McCoy’s parents on State Route 325 where the accident occurred. Though the exact date concerning when the monument was placed and when it went missing is unknown at this time, it’s believed to have been stolen at some point in 1997, according to unconfirmed information DeLawder could gather.
Ed Miller, owner of Giovanni’s of Rio Grande, was a student at Rio at the time of the accident and later joined Alpha Sigma Phi, the fraternity of the three men on the monument. Miller said the monument could’ve been missing as far back as 1995, though again, the exact date is unknown. Miller said he pledged the fraternity after the fatal crash but knew the three men who perished, saying, “all three were great guys.”
In addition to the story on the crash, the Tribune printed the obituaries of the fraternity brothers.
McCoy’s obituary said he was a member of Peebles Church of Christ, survived by his parents, brothers, sister, grandparents. A scholarship was established in his name.
Hanson’s obituary said he was the co-founder of the Young Republican Club at Rio, survived by his parents, sisters, nieces and nephews.
Bitonte’s obituary stated he’d just completed his internship at the French Art Colony and was the treasurer of Alpha Sigma Phi. An Eagle Scout, he was survived by his parents, brother, grandmothers and several aunts, uncles and cousins.
Looking back on the somber events of 31 years ago, Miller said of the shared loss, “It created unity on campus, because it is a small campus, everybody knows everybody.”
Miller said McCoy’s parents, as owners of the monument, have been contacted and informed it has been found.
It’s unknown how the monument ended up in Tycoon Lake, or really how long it had been there. The pieces were covered in mud and found near the boat launch where, in addition to the water level being lowered, excavating had been ongoing. Did the excavating uncover it after years of being dumped there or was it recently dumped? Someone out there possibly still has the answers to these questions, including the “why?”
Miller said, though he’s often wondered what happened to that monument along State Route 325, what matters more is that it was found.
“To me, that’s the amazing part, that after all these years, it’s back,” he said.
Both Lambert and Royer on Thursday, said they were glad to know the monument’s owners were found and maybe, a little closure with it.
“They (Lambert and Royer) did find something…something of great importance,” Miller said.
The discovery proves, just because something has been unseen for years, doesn’t mean it’s forgotten.
© 2020 Ohio Valley Publishing, all rights reserved.
Beth Sergent is editor of Ohio Valley Publishing.