The Edmond Sun

June 16, 2011

Feds send investigators in Guthrie area drowning

Mark Schlachtenhaufen
The Edmond Sun

EDMOND — A federal team has been dispatched to investigate the apparent drowning death of a 22-year-old research volunteer near Guthrie.

Tom Buckley, a regional spokesman for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, said the victim, who was from the Tulsa area, has been identified as Joshua Griffin, 22, a recent college graduate.

In a previous report, Guthrie Fire Chief Eric Harlow said the victim’s body was discovered in about 8 feet of water at about 3:15 p.m. Wednesday in the Cimarron River a few miles north of Guthrie by Oklahoma Highway Patrol personnel using side scanning sonar. The spot was within 50 feet of where the victim was last seen, Harlow said.

The state medical examiner’s office was investigating the death.

Buckley said the victim was walking in shallow water when the sand beneath his feet gave way. As he was struggling to stay above water the accompanying biologist attempted to reach him, but backed off when he feared he might be pulled under water himself, Buckley said. Another bystander, a woman, jumped into the water and attempted to recover him but she was not able to reach him.

Buckley said an Occupational Safety and Health Administration-related investigative team will look into what happened, determine if relevant workplace practices were followed and make a recommendation. The team, likely coming from Washington, D.C., was expected to arrive Thursday or Friday, he said.

Harlow said none of the individuals in the group with the victim were wearing life jackets. He said the area had occasionally been dredged for sand. Buckley said if the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had known that the survey would not have been conducted there.

Buckley said it was a freak accident, and he was not sure if something like this had ever happened before. Persons associated with the federal agency are still in shock and are saddened about what happened, he said. Arrangements were being made to provide grief counseling to those affected by the tragic incident.

“Our hearts go out to the family,” he said.

Buckley said the victim was part of a group of a half dozen individuals that included four volunteers and a biologist surveying an endangered species. Two other groups, including one from a state agency, were also part of the survey, he said.

Buckley said they were looking into the health of the local population of the Arkansas River shiner, a small, heavy-bodied minnow with a rounded snout and small mouth, according to a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service fact sheet.

According to the agency the shiner is native to wide, sandy-bottomed streams of the Arkansas River drainage. It is presently almost entirely restricted to the Canadian/South Canadian River in Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico. A small population is believed to remain in the upper Cimarron River in Kansas and Oklahoma.

The species is believed to spawn during the months of May, June and July in conjunction with flows following heavy rains. Surveys in the Arkansas River Basin from 1976-2002 documented that the shiner has disappeared from the than 80 percent of its historic range in the past 40 years.

In 1985, after a nationwide review of vertebrate species conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Arkansas River shiner first received consideration as a candidate for listing under the Endangered Species Act.
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