An 18-year-old college student from Hoover died Sunday afternoon when he fell 40 to 50 feet down a pit in a northeast Alabama cave, Jackson County Coroner John Jordan said.
The young man was identified as Patrick Werszner, a student at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and a former student at John Carroll Catholic High School.
Jordan said Werszner was with a friend in the Stephens Gap Cave in Jackson County when he fell to his death about 12:50 p.m. “They were sitting on a ledge, and he got up to turn around and fell,” Jordan said.
Werszner fell about 40 to 50 feet down a 143-foot-tall pit, Jordan said. “He died immediately.”
Werszner was not wearing or using any climbing gear when he fell, Jordan said. He was familiar with the cave and had been there before, Jordan said.
The Jackson County Sheriff’s Office is investigating the death, but Jordan said he ruled it as an accident.
“It’s just a sad situation that anybody that young loses their life when he had so much ahead of him,” Jordan said. “But he was doing what he enjoyed doing. I understand he loved rock climbing.”
Jordan said this is the third fatality he has seen at the Stephens Gap Cave in the past 15 years. A woman died there after falling about seven years ago, and a boy died there about 12 years ago, he said.
The Stephens Gap Cave was purchased by the Southeastern Cave Conservancy in December.
“This is the first incident of its kind at an SCCi managed preserve,” the organization said on its Facebook page. “The Board of Directors, staff and members of SCCi would like to extend our condolences to the family of this individual and thank the Jackson County first responders and others at the scene that assisted.”
Jordan also expressed his sympathy for Werszner’s family.
“I never had any children, so I can’t know how they feel, but I know it’s going to be rough,” he said. “I know there’s a void in the family now that they’re not going to be able to fill.”
Werszner was listed as a civil engineering student in the University of Alabama at Birmingham directory. A woman who answered Werszner’s telephone and identified herself as a family member said the family did not wish to make any comments at this time.