Owner of Nelson County quarries discusses dangers after teen's swimming death

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NELSON COUNTY, Va. (WCAV) — The death of a Hanover County teenager last week in Schuyler has brought attention to the risks of swimming in quarries.

Days after divers recovered the body of 18-year-old Henry Christian Morin, Bernice Thieblot - a Nelson County resident with several quarries on her property - has a message for other would-be quarry swimmers.

“There's just no reason to swim in them. It's too risky,” she said.

Thieblot and her husband bought 440 acres in Schuyler in 1991, and have since expanded that to a 600-acre property. There are several quarries on the land, and they have spent much of the past three decades transforming a 40-acre portion of their property into the Quarry Gardens of Schuyler, a botanical garden of native Virginia plants.

They lead regular tours of the property, past the soapstone quarries that were once the economic heart of the area.

Thieblot says quarries may look like ideal swimming holes, but they are anything but.

"These quarries were used as a dump site for many years by residents of Schuyler who discarded old stoves, old refrigerators, herbicide containers, box springs, you name it," Thieblot said.

She says large trees have also fallen into her quarries, creating risk.

"One, in particular, was over 40 feet tall and landed on its root ball, so one could dive into a tree," she said.

Objects in the water aren't the only danger, Thieblot says. The quarry walls themselves aren't necessarily straight down under the water.

"We've learned that our quarries have a number of projections. They step down in places. There are outcrops there, so a person jumping into one of them could hit the side," she said.

WHSV's sister station, WCAV, also reached the owner of the quarry where Morin died near the intersection of Quarry Hill Lane and Schuyler Road in Albemarle County. The owner, Vance Wilkins, said there are several quarries on his land, and he didn't know the conditions of the water where Morin was swimming.

A spokesman for the chief medical examiner says Morin's cause of death is still pending.

Albemarle County Commonwealth's Attorney Robert Tracci says his office will prosecute trespassers, and he says trespassing laws serve two purposes.

"One is protecting the rights of private property owners, but of no less importance, it's preserving public safety, alerting people about potential dangers that are inherent in entering private property," Tracci said.

In Virginia, trespassing is a Class One misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and a $2,500 fine.

Both Thieblot and Wilkins say they have no trespassing signs posted, and property owners are not legally responsible for injuries that befall trespassers. Still, Thieblot says she and her husband are now going a step further to secure their property from trespassing swimmers.

"We're putting in a security system with cameras, so we'll be able to summon the Nelson County Sheriff's department,” she said.