Milwaukie man drowns in Willamette River

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by KGW Staff

NWCN.com

Posted on November 14, 2012 at 7:23 PM

Updated Friday, Nov 16 at 10:13 AM

GLADSTONE, Ore. -- A 53-year-old Milwaukie man drowned Wednesday night and his girlfriend was rescued moments before she went underwater, in a freak accident involving their pickup truck and the rising high tide.

Thomas Ermini and his girlfriend, 46-year-old Sandra Gracey, were visiting Meldrum Bar Park near Gladstone with their two dogs, said Sgt. Adam Phillips of the Clackamas County Sheriff's Office. The popular site has a boat launch and a sand bar, which is a popular spot for motorists.

Witnesses said the tide started rising suddenly around 5 p.m. and the couple was caught off guard.

"They were starting to drive out because the tide was coming up or was already up high," witness Kenny Willsey told KGW. "His headlights starting going under and at that point, the truck started floating."

Fisherman Jason Jennings saw the couple struggling in the water and was able to reach Gracey and pull her safely into his boat.

"When we got closer, we could hear them over the motor," Jennings said, "so we came up around the bar and with all the lights shining down from the rescue vehicles we could see a splash so we saw that and headed over and grabbed her."

She was moments from going under, said Jason Vandercook, who also helped pull her out. "She didn't look good. She was going up and down, struggling," he said.

Jennings said Gracey "was cold, panicked and upset about her boyfriend."

She was taken to Providence Milwaukie Hospital as a precaution. Her son told KGW she is very shaken up, but will be okay.

"She's good. She got out of the hospital yesterday [Wednesday] and just had mild hypothermia.  She's broken up but she's good," Robert Gracey said.

Searchers were not able to find Ermini until Thursday morning. His body was about 100 feet from where the truck disappeared. Divers said visibility was only one to two feet and as of Thursday afternoon, they had still not been able to locate the truck.

One of the couple’s dogs - named Josey - swam to shore, then ran up and down the riverbank all night despite people's efforts to catch him. At daylight Thursday, he could be seen standing alone near the edge of the sand bar and barking. Someone finally managed to catch him hours later.

Video: Dog stands vigil for missing owner

Police did not know the condition or whereabouts of the other dog, named Ruby, Sgt. Phillips said.

Thursday, the popular park was filled with fisherman and other people who were once again driving on the sand bar.

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(KGW reporters Reggie Aqui, Kyle Iboshi and Katherine Cook contributed to this report.)

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