Coroner: Legion pond drowning accidental

The Mercer County coroner determined that a drowning in a Pine Township pond on Tuesday was accidental. 

Coroner John A. Libonati stated that the death of 64-year-old John Walochik of Grove City was due to asphyxia by drowning in a pond at the front of John R. Huff American Legion Post 220, state Route 58, Pine Township at 8:30 a.m. June 13.

State police say video surveillance captured Walochik, a member of the Sons of the American Legion and the post's maintenance man for 21 years, operating a zero-turn riding mower and sliding laterally into the pond in front of the Legion. He was close to the pond's edge and some rocks gave way, the coroner said, adding the mower went down without Walochik under the machine. 

"It isn't really clear" why Walochik didn't come out of the pond if he was free of the mower, Libonati said. He wasn't sure how well Walochik could swim, but thinks Walochik's denim jeans may have been a culprit since they shrink and become heavy when wet. Walochik's family also told Libonati that he had decreased lung capacity.  

Shortly after the accident, multiple members of the Legion arrived on the scene, but didn't see Walochik right away, Libonati said. 

According to police, a Legion co-worker went outside for a break around 11:45 a.m. "and noticed something near the pond. When she walked towards the pond, she observed Walochik's body and ran for help." 

Libonati said that Legion members pulled him from the water. 

In addition to the coroner and state police, Pine Township Engine Company and Superior Ambulance of Pine assisted at the scene. 

A firefighter diving team pulled the mower from the pond Tuesday night and determined the water to be 10 to 12 feet, Libonati said. "It's like a hole."

Individuals stood outside crying at the scene Tuesday. Walochik was married to auxiliary member Debbie Walochik, sister of post commander Edward Blakley. A recent Allied News story about the Legion's new club included Walochik, who called his ties to the veterans group "a home away from home."

Post 220 had also been celebrating their recent move to the club at 1946 Mercer-Grove City Road, which was the former Legacy Banquet and Conference Center. Members were excited to have the larger property and building to support events that would support veterans and charities. 

Members began moving into the new Legion post in April after years of looking for a new place and after a year to finalize the transaction in March. Dunkin' Donuts bought the Legion's former East Main Street property to build a doughnut shop, and just razed the 100-year-old building two weeks ago. 

Obituary information for Walochik can be found on page A-5. 

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