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Commission advises people to avoid recreating on the Jordan River following Wednesday’s near tragedy

SHARE Commission advises people to avoid recreating on the Jordan River following Wednesday’s near tragedy

MURRAY — A day following Wednesday's near tragedy in which a Boy Scout was rescued from a raging river at flood level, a commission issued a press release advising people of risks involved with recreating on or near the Jordan River during the ongoing runoff.

The Jordan River Commission's release stated the spring is the wrong time to use the river for recreational purposes; citing cold muddy water and high flows that push large debris hidden in the mirky water. Spring water temperatures can cause hypothermia and almost instantaneous blackouts, the release states.

The release called for extreme caution and advised Jordan River users to know the potential risks, safe entry and exit points and dangerous areas of the river. It was a waterfall that tipped the canoe of a 14-year-old Scout, 16-year-old Venture Scout and an adult leader.

Before being tipped, they were about to exit the river to walk past a small waterfall near 4600 South and 500 West when a branch they were clinging to broke. They were swept over the falls and their canoe flipped, said Murray Fire Marshal Russ Groves.

Kelby Merrill, 16, and the adult swam to shore while the boy clung to a branch to a branch of a tree growing in the river for about 30 minutes before members of a swift water rescue team pulled him from the river.

"Our victim actually began getting recirculated in the current. It's a recirculating current, it's like a washing machine," said Murray Fire Capt. Joseph Treadwell.

The 14-year-old boy was cold but appeared to be OK, Groves said.

The boy was taken to Intermountain Medical Center in Murray for treatment of hypothermia but was released shortly after being checked out by doctors.

"It could have been real tragic," Groves said. "It's really not a good time to hang around the rivers and creeks. The water is way too high and way too fast."

There were five other canoes in the group, with 10 Scouts and five leaders who successfully exited the river before the waterfall, Groves said.

Firefighters call the waterfall the "drowning machine" because of the number of fatalities they have seen there. They said the kids were lucky to be alive. That part of the river is not safe for canoeing until July, firefighters said.

The Scout group's leader, Scott Owen, said they had a plan to pull the canoes out and put them back in to avoid the rough water. But authorities said now is not the time of year to be on the river.

"The water's extremely high, it's powerful, it's cold, and there's no leeway for any misjudgment, miscalculation or even a missed paddle stroke," Treadwell said.

To mitigate the risks of future Jordan River use, the Commission's executive director, Laura Hanson, said the commission might develop educational materials, complete the Jordan River Parkway trail, and promote awareness of river access points and hazards. Long-term projects might include removing or redesigning dangerous structures in the river, stated the release.

E-mail: sgarn@desnews.com