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Party Turns into Search


Party turns into search

What started out as a report of a loud party on Santiam Bluffs Road early this morning turned into a massive search of the Santiam River for people deputies feared might have drowned.

Deputies eventually found that all the young people who had been there were safe and accounted for.

According to Linn County Sheriff Dave Burright, the sheriff's office got a phone call about midnight from someone who lives on Santiam Bluffs, a road along the river just west of Jefferson, reporting loud screaming.

Two deputies got there about 12:30 a.m. One of them spoke to a group of young people on the road, while the second deputy walked along the riverbank. When they saw him, at least three people jumped in the river and began swimming across.

The deputy then heard a female voice coming from the river, crying for help and saying that she wasn't able to stay afloat. The deputy lost sight of her in the darkness, but saw a couple of other people scrambling out of the water on the far bank.

The deputies immediately called for backup, and workers from the Linn and Marion County sheriff's offices, the Albany and Jefferson fire districts and the Oregon State Police - a total of 44 people - arrived to help, searching the river and both sides of the bank.

They found nine people still near the river.

"Most of them were at least initially completely uncooperative," Burright said.

They refused to tell deputies how many people had originally been with them and how many remained unaccounted for. After several hours, they finally told deputies that there were six people missing, and the workers continued searching.

At 5:15 a.m., deputies acting on tips found two of the missing youths near Lancaster Mall in Salem. Burright said they somehow walked away from the river and got a ride to Salem.

At 5:45 a.m., an OSP trooper found two others, including the girl who had called for help from the river, walking into the Santiam Rest Area on Interstate 5.

By this time, the other people had also told deputies that the last two of their missing friends were safe and had called them on their cell phones since the incident.

All 15 of the young people at the river - nine male and six female - were from the Salem area. They ranged in age from 16 to 23. Six of them were cited on minor in possession of alcohol charges, and one man, Robert Ray III, 23, was arrested for interfering with a police officer and lodged at the Linn County Jail.

- By Jennifer Rouse, Albany Democrat-Herald


Last modified: December 05, 2003