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CLATSKANIE, Ore. -- The welcome sign in Clatskanie reads, Our hearts are heavy.

Brant Hicks, 35, drowned after he rescued his two-year-old son who had fallen from a fishing boat into the Columbia River Saturday. Witnesses said Hicks jumped in the frigid water, found the toddler, handed him up to his father-in-law in the boat, then vanished underwater. The boy was wearing a life preserver, his father was not.

The biggest thing that went wrong is, when he jumped in he was not wearing a life preserver, said Sgt. Russ George of the Columbia County Sheriff's Office. Because if he had one on, he'd likely still be with us today.

Background: Man drowns in Columbia River after saving 2-year-old

The father of two was born and raised in Clatskanie. Friends said he always had a zest for life, but was a bit of a wild child growing up. They said that all changed when he met his wife Megan and became a father.

He really became this responsible adult man - A good father, good husband. He had a good job. And what's the sense in any of this? said Calvin Olsen, who owns several stores in town and knows the family.

One of Hicks' closest friends told KGW, Brant had just said that all his dreams had come true and he d never been happier in his life.

Folks in the tight-knit community were trying to deal with the shock.

I saw Megan's Facebook post Saturday that said, 'Happy to be on the river with my family,' then an hour later you re hearing what happened and that just sent shock waves throughout the community, Olsen said.

It was the fourth drowning in Columbia County over the past year, and authorities said in all four cases, the victims were not wearing life preservers.

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