WESTFIELD, Mass. (The Westfield News) – Harold Phelps, who had attempted to make a run for Westfield Mayor last year, was found dead on Thursday.
Phelps’ sister, Tracey Phelps Saint Jean, who would like her brother to be remembered as a “kind-hearted mountain man,” said she was notified of his death yesterday afternoon.
Apparently, Phelps, 56, went hiking sometime over the weekend and was reported missing earlier this week.
According to James Leydon of the Hampden County District Attorney’s office, the Chester Police Department and the Massachusetts State Police K-9 unit had been searching for Phelps after he was reported missing over the weekend. The body was found Thursday by the K-9 unit. The Western Massachusetts Technical Fire Rescue Team assisted in recovery. No foul play was suspected.
“He was walking on the train tracks, and it is assumed he fell from the trestle and ended up in the river,” Saint Jean said in a phone interview Friday morning.
Chester Police Chief Dan Ilnicky said that Phelps was last seen Sunday evening and was officially reported missing late Tuesday.
Ilnicky said they knew where Phelps would hike, which was in the proximity between Main Street and Old Baystate Drive, so the search started in that area.
On Wednesday, a search began from air and on ground with the K9 unit from the Massachusetts State Police.
They ran out of daylight and resumed the search on Thursday, with help from police from Huntington and Russell.
“We found his body shortly after noon (Thursday) in the Westfield River below the train trestle,” Ilnicky said.
The Western Mass Regional Rescue team had to extract his body from under the ice in the river, he said.
It is believed he fell and apparently hit his head, said Ilnicky, but the medical examiner’s office will determine cause of death.
“He was a mountain man through and through and hiked a lot,” Saint Jean said. She believes he had been hiking alone.
“It is a mystery as to what happened,” said Saint Jean, who had been trying unsuccessfully to reach her brother and his friend by phone all week.
She said her brother was single and did not have any children, but left behind two brothers, Scott Phelps, 50 and David Phelps, 55 along with Saint Jean, who has 10 children and 15 grandchildren.
Phelps was self-employed as the owner of Phelps Engineering and “did amazing carpentry work,” said Saint Jean.
According to his Facebook page, Phelps graduated from Westfield High School in 1977 and received a degree from Plymouth State College (now University) in New Hampshire in 1981.
Saint Jean said that Phelps would have turned 57 on February 12. She fought back tears as she said that she and her brother shared a birthday as they were growing up since she was born on February 11.
“He was a horse of a different color,” Saint Jean said. “He was a kind-hearted, warm person. His creativity was too great for this world. He will be greatly missed.”
Staff Writer Christine Charnosky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org