Our view: Let diligence equal safety around caves
City of St. Paul officials knew their caves along the Mississippi River bluffs were dangerous. A decade ago they had 20 to 30 caves sealed off after three teenagers died from carbon monoxide poisoning while exploring. The blockades included “no trespassing” signs.
The problem is there are about 50 caves. And, despite the efforts of authorities, they remain popular for exploration, so popular that not long ago a vent hole was opened to one of the caves to let in thrill-seekers. A lot of thrill-seekers, apparently, according to Twin Cities news reports.
Over the weekend, tragedy nearly struck again. An 18-year-old from Hudson, Wis., likely went through that vent hole and got trapped in the pitch black inside with nothing but two lighters, a knife and a dying cellphone. He slipped and fell down a 20-foot shaft, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reported. He yelled for help but got no response. He burned whatever he could find for heat, which actually was a dumb move; later he had to be treated for smoke inhalation and carbon monoxide poisoning. Around daybreak, authorities finally and thankfully found him and brought him out. A brief communication from his cellphone before it died proved enough.
In the aftermath, authorities said they hadn’t been called to a cave rescue in about 10 years. Maybe so, but it’s obvious these caves remain a problem. There are thrill-
seekers and those who are simply curious from Duluth to the Twin Cities and all over the state who far too often do stupid things and take stupid risks. Maybe more caves need to be sealed off. Clearly, city officials need to be more diligent about monitoring barricades and other potential entry points. Any signs of digging or other attempted entry have to be eliminated far more promptly than is happening now.
The city also can be more diligent about severely prosecuting cave trespassers — even if they’ve just gone through the trauma of having to be rescued. There may be no deterrent to stupidity, but stiff penalties would be a step in the right direction.