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Drowning at the Offsets

Authorities gather at a flooded quarry known as Paradise Cove or the Offsets in Madison County, Mo., on Wednesday, July 4, 2018. A Chesterfield man drowned after diving off a cliff. Photo by Kevin Jenkins, Daily Journal

JEFFERSON CITY — The owners of the Offsets, a swimming hole south of St. Louis where at least nine people have died since the 1980s, announced Monday the destination will be "temporarily" shut down amid a legal fight with the state.

"The government should not be able to dictate nor demonize a privately owned business/swimming hole," a post on the Offsets' Facebook page read.

The Missouri attorney general's office in August sued the owners of the Offsets, Gary and Rebecca Henson, and Offsets Recreation LLC, following two drowning deaths there in July. The flooded former quarry is 70 miles south of St. Louis, near Fredericktown.

Then-Attorney General Josh Hawley called the swimming hole a "public nuisance." He asked a Madison County judge to issue an injunction to close the swimming hole until owners address safety concerns.

As of Tuesday, the court has not issued any injunction to close the swimming hole, but the state filed a proposed judgment on Monday. The proposal asks the court to close the grounds until further notice.

Hawley’s office said that some bluffs are taller than 40 feet, and that when patrons jump into the water, they can’t easily access flat ground because they are surrounded by bluffs.

“There is nowhere for an injured or tiring swimmer to rest, and a swimmer in trouble may have to swim hundreds of feet to safety,” the lawsuit says.

Hawley’s office said that the owners of the destination use signs and waivers that are “insufficient” in warning guests about the property’s dangers. The lawsuit also says there are no life preservers available near the bluffs and no lifeguards on duty.

The lawsuit also says that an added danger is the force with which swimmers hit the water, noting that at least one of the victims broke his neck while jumping.

The Offsets’ waiver does note that there is a risk of injury or death by jumping off the cliffs, and there are signs posted around the property. But near the tallest cliffs, most popular with guests, the only signs read “no flipping,” the lawsuit says.

No one answered The Offsets' phone when a reporter called on Tuesday. The Facebook post blames the temporary closure on "government over reach" and says the state is holding a private business to a higher standard than it holds operators of state-owned attractions.

Jack Suntrup covers state government and politics for the Post-Dispatch.