The fast and frigid Clark Fork River claimed a victim Tuesday morning after a 16-year-old Sanders County male jumped into the river trying to evade police.
Missoula County sheriff’s spokesperson Brenda Bassett said the teenager entered the river near the 1400 block of East Broadway after police stopped an allegedly stolen vehicle.
Four individuals were in the car when it was stopped, and police detained three of them.
Rescuers were called to the Van Buren Street foot bridge at roughly 8 a.m. where they launched two watercraft in search of the fourth passenger. They proceeded upstream to where officers had reported seeing the male.
“As the rescue craft were en route, the patient submerged and drifted with the current,” Missoula fire battalion chief Kip Knapstad said in a statement issued later Tuesday. “Missoula police and fire units staged at the remaining bridge as lookouts.”
Knapstad said Life Flight also responded to the scene and helped locate the patient near Ogren Field. Search and Rescue, which also responded, launched a boat to recover the patient. He was brought to shore at 9 a.m. where rescuers conducted CPR.
The patient was transported to St. Patrick Hospital where he was pronounced dead.
A Missoula Current reporter at the scene reported standstill traffic on the Orange Street Bridge as emergency responders tried to spot the man. The medical helicopter circled overhead for about 20 minutes.
Police placed caution signs out on the Kim Williams Trail and groups of bystanders huddled in Silver Park while joggers ran by bewildered. Finally, searchers located the male on the north side of the river across from Ogren Park and brought him across the river to the parking lot.
Reports of an armed suspect were inaccurate, possibly based on rumors of shots fired, Bassett said. The male who jumped in the river was wearing only shoes and red shorts with no shirt. At one point, he got out of the river to talk to police, but then jumped back in.
The sheriff’s department described him only as a 16-year old male from Sanders County. The Ravalli County Sheriff’s Office will be conducting the coroner’s investigation.