Make the McKenzie Connection!

Sunken Kia still underwater

VIDA: A vehicle involved in a fatal accident last month remains on the bottom of the McKenzie River. On May 13th, the Lane County Sheriff’s Office received a report of a submerged vehicle in the water near milepost 31 at approximately 6:57 p.m.

A short time later they located a person floating down the river. The victim was recovered by McKenzie River Fire & Rescue personnel and was transported to the hospital by LifeFlight.

Identified as Beverly Fry-Hadden, 60, of Vida, she was pronounced deceased at the hospital.

The vehicle, a 2011 Kia Utility SUV, was initially thought to come to rest  at the base of a large whirlpool. Searchers spent two weeks searching nearby but were unable to locate it.

Tim Baumgartner, owner of T&M Towing of Eugene, is in charge of the recovery. He hired local river guide Steve Schaefers to help in the search. “We couldn’t put divers in so we used an underwater camera,” Baumgartner recalls. “But it was a maroon colored vehicle. We finally found it about a mile and a half down stream but it was white. The airbags had blown out and were on top of the vehicle.”

And there the car remains. Baumgartner said he’s spent the last month trying to get property owners to let him use land on one side of the river or the other to stage his tow truck and pull the vehicle out. Both have refused citing concerns ranging from “future environmental impacts” to not believing him when he explained no trees needed to be cut and he would place plywood on the ground to minimize disturbances. “Finally I just threw up my hands and turned it over to the Sheriff’s Office.”

“While we aren’t pushing the matter to be resolved within a certain time frame (because there are factors beyond many people’s control on this one),” according to Sgt. Carrie Carver, “we do have our marine deputies monitoring it to make sure it doesn’t become a greater hazard as water levels fluctuate.”

In the meantime Karl Morgen-stern, the Eugene Water & Electric Board’s drinking water source protection coordinator says, “Anything like that in the river is a concern even in small quantities. Long term, plastics and everything starting to degrade is a problem, we need to get the car out of there.”

At the state level, Jeff Brown of the DEQ says his agency typically doesn’t respond to passenger vehicles. However, he suspects the amount of gasoline likely to be present has likely dissipated.

At the Oregon Dept. of Fish & Wildlife district fisheries biologist Jeff Ziller said, “From our standpoint, we have no jurisdiction. But we hope something will be done not too far in the future and at least some angler won’t hook into it.”

Then again, one plan under consideration involves have a diver attach a bladder to the car and float it downstream to a site where it can be towed out. If that happens, Ziller noted, “It should be interesting.”


McKenzie River reflections


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