2 die in separate river cases
Tragedy struck twice last week on Blue River in Milltown, which was the site of a drowning and a death linked to a drowning. They occurred less than 18 hours apart.
On Tuesday, just after 6 p.m., 16-year-old Alissa Knight was in the water upstream from the dam with a teenage friend on the shore on the Crawford County side of the river. Knight was in the process of returning to shore when, for an unknown reason, she went over the dam.
Knight, who was going to be a junior this fall at North Harrison High School, was swept a half-mile downstream before her body was found and recovered.
Milltown resident Gina Pullen, who was walking dogs with her boyfriend on the Milltown Bridge, noted that she thought the water on the river was moving ‘pretty fast.’ She said Knight had just gone into the water after standing on a log on the Crawford County side of the river, and Knight’s friend was already on dry ground on the Crawford side, hollering for Knight to ‘come on.’
‘Alissa was in the water, but she wasn’t struggling or in distress or anything,’ Pullen said. ‘There was absolutely nothing going on that led me to believe she was in any trouble or that she was goofing off. I looked down for just a few seconds and the next thing I knew (Knight’s friend) was screaming for help. We ran over and immediately did what we could to help.’
Pullen yelled for Cave Country Canoe employee Mason Miller, 17, to grab six life jackets and a boat in an attempt to rescue Knight. She also called the Milltown Police Dept., which spurred help from several agencies.
Miller said he and others watched for Knight to emerge from the roil of the dam.
Indiana Conservation Officer Jim Hash described the roil as a hydraulic current.
‘It tends to just flip an object over and over again, sucking it down underneath the water,’ he said.
Pullen said her boyfriend, Rob Robards, went into the river as close as he could venture to where Knight went over, but he stopped about five yards short because the current was too strong.
‘The water was running pretty fast. It wasn’t so much at the top, but the bottom was really moving and had white caps and everything,’ Pullen said. ‘Rob’s legs really took a beating.’
An autopsy on Knight conducted last Wednesday by the Jefferson County (Ky.) Medical Examiner provided findings consistent with that of a dry drowning.
‘We did everything we could. I wanted the family to know there were people there who cared and were ready to do whatever it took to get to her,’ Pullen said. ‘We just never saw her after she went over the dam. We were looking for an arm or a foot or anything that we could grab onto. As a teacher, I’m trained in CPR, and I was ready to help. I asked for those life jackets and boat because I felt like, if we could get her, we could start CPR immediately. We looked and looked and even had our Labrador out there, and we never saw her.’
Hash said the river just above the dam can be a very dangerous area when the water gets to be higher than normal. ‘These waters are not an area you would normally want to be in, even when they look like they are calm and tranquil,’ he said. ‘They can be extremely dangerous.’
There are no signs in that area of Blue River banning swimming above the dam.
In addition to Indiana Conservation Officers, emergency responders included the Milltown Police Dept., Milltown Volunteer Fire Dept., Harrison County EMS and the Harrison County Coroner’s office.
On Wednesday morning, just before a scheduled press conference regarding the previous day’s death, a Boonville couple had to be rescued after the canoe they were in capsized after colliding with a sycamore tree that had recently fallen in the water.
Shortly after 10:30 a.m., Harrison County Emergency Dispatch received a 911 call advising that a man had capsized his canoe and had become trapped beneath it.
According to Hash, William R. Chappell, 69, and his wife, Shirley, 56, were on Blue River with their grandson, Thomas Moss, and his girlfriend as part of a Cave Country Canoe trip. The canoe the Chappells were in t-boned the tree and then the current caused the back end of the canoe to swing around, eventually causing the top of the boat to turn against the current. As the boat began to list, the couple fell into the water.
Shirley, who was not wearing a life vest, was carried by the current under the tree, while William, who had on a vest, was trapped underneath it.
Moss pulled his grandfather to safety and then his girlfriend began CPR as they waited for help to arrive, Hash said.
The Chappells were taken by boat to an entrance point near Mudd Lane then transported by ambulance to the Community Foundation of Crawford County building near the intersection of state roads 64 and 66.
William was transported via Air Methods to University Hospital in Louisville while his wife was treated and released. William Chappell, who was conscious while en route to the hospital and had a history of cardiac problems, passed away later that evening from complications associated with the drowning.
Assisting agencies included Ramsey and Milltown Volunteer Fire departments, Milltown Police Dept. and the Crawford County Sheriff’s Dept.
Several other drownings have taken place recently in public areas in the state. Last week, in separate incidents, two children, ages 3 and 5, drowned in Bixler Lake in Noble County; on June 16, an 18-year-old drowned at Salamonie Reservoir Beach in Huntington County; on May 30, an 18-year-old drowned in the St. Joe River in Allen County; and, on May 21, a 2-year-old drowned in a swimming pool in Whitley County.
Conservation officers remind everyone to be cautious when in or around water. Never swim alone, always wear a life jacket when in or near the water and never underestimate the force of moving water.