Tigard teen drowns in Little North Santiam River near Mehama

Top Stories: Sunrise 6-19-17

MEHAMA, Ore.  -- A 13-year-old boy from Tigard drowned while swimming in the Little North Santiam River near the Elkhorn Valley Campground near Mehama.

Deputies from the Marion County Sheriff's Office responded around 4:15 p.m. to reports of the drowning. Friends of Kendall Alexander told police he was swimming with friends and was swept downriver without resurfacing.

His body was recovered about 6:15.  Rescuers on scene also helped the teen's friends, who were stranded on the opposite bank of the river.

Alexander was an eighth-grade student at Fowler Middle School.

The death marks the second drowning this spring in the Little North and the ninth in the river’s swimming holes since 1999.

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With a string of warm-weather days in the forecast, officials are stressing the danger of the rivers and importance of wearing a life-preserver when swimming.

“That water is cold, fast-moving and high right now,” Marion County Sheriff's Office spokesman Lt. Chris Baldridge said. “People that want to head out there are going to have to be prepared for those conditions. At this point, it’s more dangerous than an average year.”

On Sunday — the day Alexander drowned — the Little North was flowing at 580 cubic feet per second at the river gauge near Mehama. That’s more than double the flow of the river a year ago and the highest on that date since 2008.

On the day Shing Yau drowned, May 22, the river was at 992 cfs, well above the average flow of 687 cfs on that date.

The Little North’s high flows have been fueled by recent rain and still-large mountain snowpack that’s melting and sending cold water downstream.

River levels across the state remain high. The North Santiam’s 2,890 cfs is well above the median (2,130 cfs) and the Willamette’s 15,200 cfs in Salem is also higher than normal (11,200 cfs).

High water, of course, isn’t the only peril. Baldridge emphasized that both might have been saved by wearing a life jacket.

“Sadly, both deaths were most likely preventable,” he said. “Had they been wearing a life preserver, most likely they would not have drowned.”

Note: Visitors can check river levels on the U.S. Geological Survey website: https://waterdata.usgs.gov/or/nwis/current/?type=flow. Look at the discharge (cfs) and compare it to the mean or median for a sense of whether the river is running high or not.

© 2017 KGW-TV


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