September 26, 2013

Saranac Lake man drowns in Marcy Brook

By SUZANNE MOORE News Editor and DAN HEATH Staff Writer

---- — NORTH ELBA — Kevin T. Benham of Saranac Lake drowned in Marcy Brook on Tuesday.

His unresponsive form, fully clothed, was spotted by a group of hikers, who called 911 at about 1:39 p.m.

“Rescue breathing and CPR took place very quickly,” State Police Troop B Public Information Officer Jen Fleishman said Wednesday. “One of the hikers ... was a doctor.”

State Police Aviation, based in Ray Brook, flew State Department of Environmental Conservation forest rangers to the location, about a quarter mile north of Marcy Dam.

Also brought to the site was a flight nurse from Adirondack Medical Center.

“The rangers took over for the doctor,” Fleishman said

And two more forest rangers were flown in to help, police said.


Benham, 36, had not been in the water long when the hikers found him, the trooper said.

Exactly what happened, whether, perhaps, Benham slipped and fell into the water, was not known, she added.

He had no injuries that indicated he had struck his head, she said, and an autopsy performed Wednesday determined he died of freshwater drowning.

“We’re ruling it accidental,” Fleishman said.


Benham suffered from Huntington’s disease, a hereditary and degenerative brain disorder that affects the body, the mind and the emotions, according to the Huntington’s Disease Society of America.

Huntington’s can target cognitive ability and mobility in its early stages, along with causing depression, mood swings, forgetfulness, clumsiness, involuntary twitching and lack of coordination.

There is no cure, and symptoms increase to the point where the person is unable to care for himself, the site says.

It is generally fatal within a decade.

Benham, whose name was given as Benham/Pillis in the obituary, belonged to Lake Placid Baptist Church.

He had come home to the Adirondacks about a year ago, it said, “with only one desire — to spend time hiking in the High Peaks,” his obituary said.


Some years ago, Benham faced kidnapping and assault charges in Arizona, after he abducted a young woman out for a walk.

She was able to kick out the back seat and jump from the moving vehicle, suffering multiple injuries.

His attorneys argued that his behavior was caused by the cognitive symptoms of Huntingdon’s disease.

On Wednesday, his mother, Patricia Pillis, expressed that same conviction to the Press-Republican, calling the disorder a horrible disease.

In March 2005, Benham pleaded guilty to kidnapping and aggravated assault. He was sentenced to eight years in prison.

He was required to register as a sex offender, and his entry on the New York State Sex Offender’s Registry was up to date on Wednesday.


Benham graduated from Lake Placid High School and earned associate’s degrees in environmental studies and culinary arts from Paul Smith’s College, according to his obituary.

He was a chef at a number of restaurants in Lake Placid, it said, until his physical condition no longer allowed him to work.

Mrs. Pillis and her husband, Paul, live in Gabriels. Benham also leaves a brother, sister and two nieces.

His birth parents, Frederick and Claudette Pinkerton; adoptive father, Reginald Benham; and his brothers, Shane Benham/Pillis and Michael Young, died before him.

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