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South Albany student drowns in Santiam


A 14-year-old South Albany High School student drowned Tuesday afternoon in a swimming accident in the South Santiam River south of Jefferson.

Juston Lee Braith was swimming near the end of Bond Road about 4:45 p.m. with his two older brothers, Jeremiah Gourley, 21, and Josh Gourley, 20.

According to Linn County Sheriff Dave Burright, Josh and Jeremiah said Juston was trying to swim across the river when he seemed to become tired and panicked. They tried to swim out to him, but he had already been swept under the surface.

One of them ran to a nearby house and called 911. Twenty-six people from the Linn County Sheriff's Office and the Albany and Jefferson fire departments responded with divers and boats.

An Albany Fire Department diver found the boy's body at 6:05 p.m., about three-quarters of a mile downstream from Bond Road in 7 to 8 feet of water.

Juston had just finished his freshman year at South Albany High School.

"He was the sweetest, kindest child," his aunt, Rose Needham, said today.

He enjoyed wrestling and riding bikes, she said. His friend, John Lynch, 15, said they loved playing video games and Hackey Sack together. Lynch's grandmother, Kris Espe, said Juston was kind and respectful.

"He was always very exuberant and fun to be around," she said.

Juston's father, Eugene Braith, is currently serving in Iraq with the Albany-based National Guard B52nd Engineers. The Red Cross notified him of Juston's death early this morning, and arrangements are being made for him to get an emergency leave. Juston's mother is Dee Ann Braith of Albany.

All three boys were living with an uncle, Joseph Braith, on Bond Road outside Albany.

Joseph Braith, who was out at the river during the search, became extremely upset when Juston's body was found and threatened one of the older brothers, Burright said. Deputies eventually had to restrain him. He was taken to the Linn County Jail, where he was booked and released on a menacing charge.

"Grief takes many forms," Burright said. "He was beside himself. This is just one of the responses we sometimes see at tragedies."

Burright said the search was difficult because there were no boat ramps nearby. The rescue boats all had to launch from the Jefferson boat ramp, two miles away.

Burright said swimmers need to be careful.

"This is the kind of tragic occurrence we have every summer," he said. "This can happen in any body of water, but especially in rivers. People tend to underestimate the effect of the cold and the current."

Funeral arrangements are pending at AAsum Funeral Home.


Last modified: December 05, 2003