by Jonathan Hoeflich on Facebook
“So I think I’m finally calmed down enough to tell you all about my experience today. I really didn’t want to past the videos I posted today but feel it needs said.
Friday night my friend Sam Hall contacted me to let me know that he was planning on taking a look at the area around the East Palestine train derailment and asked if I wanted to join him. Though I couldn’t Saturday because of a very important photoshoot in terms of my budding career I joined him today if only to help him for fish IDs, see it for myself, and to document what is quickly being covered up by national media, social media outlets, and now without a doubt the state of Ohio.
We met up this morning at the confluence of Leslie and Bull Runs and followed Leslie up about a mile and a half. This spot is ruffly 3.5 miles from ground zero. At first there seemed to be some hope. At the bridge we parked at we were greeted by the sight of a fairly large school of shiner fry (roseyface or possibly “strommon” or even spotfin). However this small glimmer hope was soon dashed as more and more dead mottled sculpin, various darters (mostly large colored up prespawn rainbow darters), and central stonerollers. Another 200ft upstream we started seeing those now famous oil looking rainbow plumes rising from the bottom. It was also where I really started to notice the smell that was reminiscent of treated lumber somewhat or freshly laid linoleum flooring.
By the time we hit Leslie itself outside of a few dying cranefly larvae and some Allegheny crayfish that were still somehow barely clinging to life everything was dead. Loads of salamanders (mostly 2 lined, a few duskys, and a random redback), green and bullfrogs, sculpin, darters of all local varieties, stonerollers, and dace littered the bottom (after the creek had been “cleaned” several times). All the alge covering the rocks was black and rotting, and all the rocks on the bank were covered in a thick white crystalline film. Soon we were walking on a carpet of death, the numbers of dead wildlife now much more numerous. The weird thing was we could see everywhere someone had been “cleaning up” all the death and the spots hit hardest were in front of the few higher class residences. That may be a coincidence but after everything we went through today I’m a bit suspicious of that.
As we neared about a mile and trying to cataloge hundreds if not into the thousands of dead fish, millions of dead inverts, and scores of dead amphibians we got to a small private bridge over the creek where we were approached by some locals (the second and third of the day) who were kind but curious about who we were and what we were doing. We explained to them that we were independent folks from the envriomental field and were taking soil and water samples and documenting the dead life there so the public could know exactly what we were finding dead as well as documenting the oil like plumes as things were obviously starting to be covered up. They were happy to share their experience with us and said that they were also sure that they were being lied to about the supposed safety of the area. They both had wells and were waiting to hear back from private testers seeing they were told by theNorfolk and Southern guys that their well water was safe. We told them that it was most certainly not safe after what we had seen and that this issue was obviously much bigger and far reaching than the media is making it seem.
After about another half mile nearing closer to the crash site the smell, oily plumes, and death became even more prevalent. With already more than we could really handle in terms of documentation and my age making itself known we decided to head back.
When we got back to the bridge two ODNR vehicles crossed (one truck and one Nissan SUV) noticed us, drove by two more times, and finally stopped. I came into this day with it in my head that there was a real chance of me getting arrested for something and was prepared for it.
On top of that I was pissed and breaking inside despite how I was trying to appear in front of Sam who I just met in person for the first time. I was ready for war…I was ready to take a beating, get tossed in jail for lord knows how long, even take a bullet for this. Still I came at the first guy with my normal kind response to both make it seem like I was on their side (I mean we are supposed to be right?) and like we were there in some official fashion (Sam more or less was I having no licensing or permits in Ohio was merely an observer and fish IDer). The first guy in the truck was older with grey hair and didn’t give us much attitude but was doing some serious probing. The second some younger punk looking guy looked like he was ready to start the shit show putting on and taking off his muck boots several times. The old guys first question of course was “What brings you here today?” To which my response was “I’ll give you three guesses and 2 don’t count…”. The guy got a “you sumbitch…” Smile and continued to ask us a bunch of questions some of which got further smart answers.
Eventually we got on the subject of dead fish species and that’s when Sam and I got slapped in the face with the most shocking statement of the day. The older ODNR guy said to us (my guess assuming we just got there) “Oh we haven’t seen any fresh dead fish since the 6th…” Sam and I looked at each other like “F@$KING SERIOUSLY?!!!” There were literally fresh dead fish all around us as we were talking to them!!! After assuring them that there were definitely fresh dead fish literally everywhere they left but not before making a point that we obviously didn’t have permission to cross all the property boundaries we did (or were going to cross). Here’s where things get really weird…
We headed just down stream to take one more look at the healthier looking section below the bridge. Not 10 minutes later 3 Black unmarked SUVs and an official looking unmarked van pulled up to our vehicles and appeared to take pics of our license plates. Sam got some pics of it as we both agreed that we should head over to see what the hell was going on. As we neared where we were getting out of the creek they pulled off.
We get back to our cars, take off our now contaminated gear, and try to scrub a little of the very noticeable chemical coating on our skin. As we’re saying our goodbyes I see an unmarked (local?) cop drive by us slow. I didn’t think much about it at first considering everything and what we just had happen. Sam leaves to head to another spot and I’m sitting there punching in directions for home when I see the same unmarked cop SUV drive by me real slow and pulled off. Again I didn’t think much about it again just figuring he checked me out and made the loop. I start checking some comments on the posts I made before the hour drive back and here he comes again slow passing me. This time I said “Oh f@$k this!” to myself and waited sure enough here he comes again for the 4th time in less than 10 minutes. I jump out and scream “WHAT?!!!” expecting and honestly wanting trouble at this point. Much to my surprise the guy just looked at me and pealed off up 170.
On the way home everything sunk in and I started really losing it. So much so that I got lost on a drive I’ve taken many times even while using Google maps (went to walking mode and I was so frustrated I could get it into drive mode). I pull into a laundry mat to reset things and calm myself a bit. An older guy in a big Ford and an almost mullet seen me and asked if I was OK. I just broke down, balled my eyes out, and vented on this poor guy for like ten minutes without him saying a word. Finally I stopped myself and apologized to him. I really wish I got his name as he just told me he understood as he lives not far from the derailment and has been working with a group that’s been getting bottled water to residents in need. Like everyone else today he told me thank you for what I did which somehow just made me hurt worse.
I gathered myself enough to make the drive home. Once there I tossed everything that touched that water today that I could. Had another break down/freak out when my mother asked about today. Jumped in the shower and broke down again as I attempted to feel clean after my day.
Let me tell you folks you can think something is terrible but until you see it first hand you’ll never have a true sense of the travesty of an event like this. It’s infuriating, is tragic, and it’s the most sinking hopeless feeling you can experience. I have to give the people of East Palestine Ohio credit though. They are fighters. Noone is taking this lying down! They are all saying f@$k that greasy railroad hush money getting thrown at them. They are demanding answers and are determined to get them. The people running the show in Ohio don’t deserve to have them as residents or that entire area as part of their state. After everything I pray to whatever deity that will listen that they get what they truly deserve and that I NEVER experience something like this again. I’ve seen desperate people, I’ve seen fish kills, I’ve seen death of the things I care the most about, I’ve felt incredible rage and hopelessness. But nothing has compared to this…this was something beyond reality. The whole damn day felt like a fever dream and now I just want to wake up.”
Jonathan Hoeflich on Facebook