Like dozens of youth in Montgomery County, Donald Pekos decided two weekends ago that the best way to go swimming was the hard way.
Bypassing the swimming club his family belongs to and several other community pools. Pekos followed a narrow, bursh-cluttered path from Rte. 28 to Dickerson Quarry, a huge illegal swimming hole surrounded by high cliffs.
Even though the unguarded, three-acre water-filled quarry has no shallow water and is situated on private property, police say almost 100 youths were there that Saturday afternoon, following a tradition of swimming at the quarry that goes back for generations.
But Pekos, 20, became part of what police say has been a familiar consequence at the quarry in recent years - drowning deaths.
State police in Rockville said that Pekos, of 2903 Radius Dr. Wheaton, was diving off a ledge about 30 feet from the water with his brother, Daniel, and Daniel's fiancee.
Donald Pekos failed to surface after a dive and could not be found underwater, state police said. Divers located his body Sunday in 400 feet of water.
Cpl. Art Fitch said that Pekos was the first person to drown in Dickerson Quarry this year. But Fitch, a police diver who has recovered several bodies from the quarry, says such tragedies happen almost every summer.
"The kids go up and dive off those cliffs as a daring thing," Fitch said. "Usually what happens is they hit the water wrong, are stunned, and sink into all that deep water before someone notices."
Pekos was an electrical engineering major at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and was working with the Coast Guard during his three-month summer vacation, according to Ceile Cunningham, a friend of the family.
"That quarry is a death trap, but I guess he got excitement out of it," Cunningham said. "It's been that way since by husband was young 60 years ago."
State police, residents in the area, and the owner of the farm that contains Dickerson Quarry, would all like to see the illegal swimming stop. But all say that almost nothing can be done about it.
"It's private property, so we have no control," Fitch said. "We think there have been some wild parties out there, drinking and so forth, but we can't go in there unless we get a request from the owner."
"I have put up no trespassing signs: I have had the police tag cars: one year I even had some kids arrested," said Mrs. O.W. Anderson, the owner of the property. "But nothing works. I don't like them there - they come from all over and leave their beer cans and damage property.
"I wish I knew the way to stop them," Anderson said. "But my husband and I tried for years and nothing keeps them out."
"I don't think that there's a parent in the country that would give their children permission to go there," said Cunningham. "But I had the same problems with my children. It's the kind of place where you don't find out they've been there until after they come back.
"The only logic in the quarry is the illogic of it," Cunningham said. "Teenagers always have to try things like that - especially because its illegal and the place is so hard to get to.
"No one has stopped it for 50 years," she said, "and I don't know what can be done now."