Mayflies lead to lawsuit

MARBLEHEAD Local shoreline communities have gone through great pains to stem the invasion of mayflie
Sarah Weber
May 24, 2010

MARBLEHEAD

Local shoreline communities have gone through great pains to stem the invasion of mayflies each summer.

But a new lawsuit filed in Ottawa County Common Pleas court could thwart their efforts.

According to the suit, Brian Yutzy, 18, was jogging along Bay Shore Road with a friend in July 2007, shortly after nightfall.

He was struck by a 2002 Chevrolet Cavalier, driven by Forrest Olmstead, 56,  Port Clinton.

Yutzy was severely injured and had to be flown to St. Vincent Mercy Medical Center in Toledo.

According to the suit, Olmstead later said he couldn’t see the then 16-year-old because the village streetlights were turned off.

Marblehead, Port Clinton and other shoreline communities regularly turned off streetlights during June and July to decrease the attraction of hatching mayflies.

The insects are drawn to city and village lights when they emerge from the lake.

Though the communities still experience an onslaught of the bugs, officials have found turning off the streetlights helps reduce the swarm — and the stinking piles of carcasses the bugs leave behind.

Yutzy, and his parents, Mary and James Yutzy, allege in the suit that the village was negligent in shutting off the lights because it created “inherently hazardous conditions, and allow(ed) them to persist, despite substantial certainty that a motorist or pedestrian would be injured or killed.”

The family is asking for more than $25,000 to compensate for medical bills, pain and suffering and continued medical issues.

Marblehead Mayor Jacqueline Bird, and village legal counsel Jim Barney said they could not comment because they had not yet seen the lawsuit.

Craig Bashein, attorney for the Yutzys, did not return calls Tuesday.

Port Clinton Mayor Debbie Hymore-Tester said if the lawsuit proceeds and a judge finds Marblehead liable, it could mean big problems for all shoreline cities affected by mayflies.

“We’ve been peppered with them,” Hymore-Tester said about the bugs. “I can remember shoveling them a few years back.”

In 2000, then Port Clinton city safety-service director Dan Bryan drafted a report about efforts to deal with the plague of mayflies.

“One of our major findings was that if we could eliminate the lights along the shoreline at night, the mayflies did not move into shore in such mass quantities,” he wrote.

As a result, former Mayor Tom Brown got permission from the Lake Erie Protection Fund to use grant money to have First Energy install switches in the city to turn off 115 lights on streets closest to the lakeshore.

“It is now a very simple process for our city crews to turn the lights off and on,” Bryan wrote. “This has greatly reduced the number of mayflies entering the city.”

Current Port Clinton safety-service director Rob Berner said he doesn’t think  the cities’ efforts to control mayflies will be in vain.

“There is no law requirement for the city to have street lighting in the state of Ohio,” Berner said. “It’s not something, from a public safety standpoint, the city is required to do.”

Berner said if a traffic signal was malfunctioning, that could be something for which the city is liable. But he said it’s unlikely Marblehead will be held accountable for turning off street lights, which are merely a public service provided by the city.

“If a judge makes a finding to that effect, that would require every city in the state to have street lights,” Berner said.