The father and step-grandfather of a 4-year-old boy who drowned in the Green River Saturday are being charged with aggravated homicide by vehicle after their canoe capsized near LaBarge.
The canoe crashed into a group of willows and flipped over on the fast-moving river, sending the occupants into the water. Two other children, an 8 year old and 1 ½ year old, were also in the canoe, but survived. Their names have not been released.
The 4 year old was found several miles downstream of the accident and could not be resuscitated.
Along with the felony charge, the father of all three children, 26-year-old Matthew Cooper of Diamondville, and step-grandfather, 48-year-old Franklin Parks of Kemmerer, are also facing several misdemeanor charges of criminally negligent homicide, reckless endangering and operating a watercraft while intoxicated.
According to the affidavit written by Sublette County Sheriff’s Office (SCSO) Detective Alaric Kaderavek, who interviewed the men after the incident, Cooper and Parks brought a 12-pack and six-pack of beer and additional cans of Chelada, a flavored beer, with them on the canoe.
Cooper is also charged with child endangerment, which is a
The charges were filed in Sublette County Circuit Court Wednesday.
At the time the men launched the canoe around 2 p.m. June 2, the Green River was about 9.19 feet, above flood level, according to the National Weather Service in Riverton.
Big Piney Mayor Phillip Smith allegedly warned the men before they launched the canoe at Dry Piney Access of the danger of the high river running extremely fast. Cooper confirmed the warning later when speaking with Kaderavek.
Smith called the SCSO at approximately 2:13 p.m. Saturday and reported he was concerned about the boaters’ safety, according to a SCSO incident report. SCSO deputies immediately went en route to the scene.
A short time later, Smith again called the SCSO to report the canoe had capsized and the boaters were in the water.
Cooper later told Kaderavek the group had no problems during the first 45 minutes of their trip down the river. However, later, the canoe turned to face upstream twice. Then, the canoe approached a Y in the river and turned sideways, hit some willows in the center of the river and flipped, sending all occupants into the water, according to the affidavit.
A Sublette County Tip Top Search and Rescue swift water team responded to the Green River, as did a short-haul helicopter contracted to Sublette County for the summer.
“If it weren’t for the swift water team and the helicopter, five people would have died,” SCSO Public Information Officer Steve Smith told the Roundup Tuesday.
Once on scene, part of the Tip Top rescue team put in a drift boat at Dry Piney Creek where the canoe party had put in, while other rescuers rode in a jet boat downstream of where they believed the canoe had overturned, said Tip Top Administrator Jason Ray.
The helicopter, piloted by John Ruhl, flew overhead providing aerial reconnaissance, Ray said, which proved to be invaluable to him and other rescuers in the boats.
“We didn’t know where people were in the river, whatsoever,” Ray said.
After capsizing, those in the canoe had scattered over several miles, Ray said. The helicopter located the 8 year old, who was in between two river channels, which the boat crews could not have seen from the water, Ray said. The helicopter then landed and rescued the 8 year old, he said.
“Had we not had the helicopter, for sure, that 8 year old would not have made it,” Ray said. “It’s definitely worth noting the helicopter definitely saved lives on that incident and was able to direct the swift water team on the ground to where they needed to be.”
The members of the canoe party were brought to the Big Piney/Marbleton Clinic. LaBarge Fireman Woodrow Studt found the 4 year old and performed CPR, according to the affidavit.
The child was pronounced dead at the clinic. Preliminary autopsy reports confirm the cause of death was drowning, according to a SCSO press release. A doctor at the clinic said she believed the cause of death was a result of hypothermia, according to the affidavit.
An autopsy is being conducted at the Mckee Medical Center in Loveland, Colo. The final autopsy report is not yet available.
When asked by Kaderavek, Franklin said he was not concerned with the danger of the river when launching the canoe, but “in hindsight, thought it may have been a very bad idea,” according to the affidavit. For the complete article see the 07-08-2011 issue.
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