UPDATED 6/22/12, 3:22 p.m.
MIDDLEBURY — A Vermont State Police diving team on Friday morning recovered the body of a man who drowned in Otter Creek on Thursday evening. Police identified the man as Yadji Moussa, 55, of Middlebury.
The Middlebury Police Department received a call at 7:27 p.m. Thursday that a man had gone under and not resurfaced, and they responded to the scene. Middlebury Police Chief Tom Hanley said due to nightfall the VSP diving team could not begin its search until early Friday.
At a Friday morning press conference, Hanley said Moussa was swimming with others off of Mill Street in Middlebury when he disappeared underwater. When the others did not see him resurface, they called the police.
Moussa’s employer, Robin Ingenthron of Good Point Recycling in Middlebury, said to his knowledge, the Cameroonian native did not know how to swim.
The diving team was on the scene around 6:30 a.m. Friday morning to begin the search, and the Middlebury Fire Department continued surface searches of the river. Shortly before 10 a.m., the VSP team recovered Moussa’s body on the river bottom near where he had last been seen.
“This is not a safe place to swim,” said Hanley, noting that a short distance off of the bank, the river bottom drops off into a ravine. While the current on the water’s surface appears relatively calm, he said the water runs through the ravine at high speeds, creating a strong undertow.
Hanley said it’s not unusual for people to swim in that area, and that there is no indication of foul play in the incident. He said it’s not yet clear whether drugs or alcohol were a factor.
But he urged caution when swimming in any local waterways, including Otter Creek.
“The creek is dangerous,” Hanley said. “It’s all water safety. You have to know what you’re getting into.”
Police took statements from witnesses on Thursday, and as of Friday afternoon were still investigating the incident.
Ingenthron said Moussa has been a dear friend since the two met in Cameroon in 1984. Ingenthron, then a Peace Corps volunteer, was placed in Moussa’s village with no money and no place to live.
“Yadji took me off of the street and fed me,” Ingenthron said. “He became a dear friend of mine for the two-and-a-half years I lived there.”
Moussa later married another Peace Corps volunteer and moved to Michigan, where the couple had two children. After the couple split up, Moussa came east to help Ingenthron start Good Point Recycling in 2000.
Ingenthron said Moussa was a good employee and friend, and the first envoy from his company to visit Africa in order to explore the possibilities of fair trade recycling there.
The past 12 years have not always been easy for Moussa, but Ingenthron said through it all, Moussa maintained his cheerful demeanor.
“He was always able to laugh the hardest in the worst of times,” said Ingenthron. “He helped many people in Africa through many tragedies, and I was one of the people who he helped.”
Moussa loved his family, said Ingenthron, and sent three quarters of each paycheck back to Michigan. Recently he had been talking about moving back to be closer to his family.
Ingenthron said there will be many who miss Moussa’s presence in the community.
“He was tremendously popular, as an employee and a colleague,” said Ingenthron.
Reporter Andrea Suozzo is at email@example.com.