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Deschutes River floater dies at hospital, day after being found underwater in Bend Whitewater Park channel

(Update: Torkelson dies at St. Charles Bend; Bend Park and Rec executive director statement)

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) – A 56-year-old Bend man died Friday at St. Charles Bend of injuries suffered on a Deschutes River floating excursion Thursday when he apparently was pulled underwater in the middle channel of the Bend Whitewater Park, police said.

Joseph Clarence Torkelson "died from the injuries he endured from this incident," police said early Friday evening.

Police and fire medics were dispatched around 2:17 p.m. Thursday to a water rescue and report of a person in the river near McKay Park and the Bend Whitewater Park, police Communications Manager Sheila Miller said Thursday.

Torkelson apparently was floating the river with a roommate, putting into the river upstream in Bend, Miller said

“Instead of staying to the left to ride through the gentle rapids at Colorado Avenue, Torkelson somehow ended up on the wrong side of the buoys" and was pulled underwater in the area of the rapids of the Whitewater Park's middle channel, police said. “Shortly thereafter, Torkelson was found and pulled from the river.”

A 911 caller from the Colorado Avenue Footbridge reported seeing a man underwater and directing a kayaker to him near the footbridge, in the Whitewater Park's middle channel, upstream from the surfing wave. The kayaker went under the bridge and removed Torkelson from the river.

Within three minutes, Miller said, bystanders had pulled him from the water, and police and fire personnel conducted CPR on Torkelson for more than 10 minutes. Lt. Mike Landolt said he had no pulse when he was rushed by ambulance to St. Charles Bend.

Police launched a drone in the area to look for any other victims, as well as any boats, kayaks or floats. No other people or abandoned watercraft were found, Miller said

Many people were floating the river Thursday on another day of hot temperatures, with most apparently unaware of what had transpired nearby.

Miller said the Colorado Avenue Bridge was closed for about a half-hour due to the water rescue operation, reopening shortly after 3 p.m.

Bend Park and Rec Board member Ariel Mendez said Friday while it's too early to understand just what happened, everyone needs to use caution while floating the river.

"I've seen the river described in promotional materials as a 'playground,' and I don't think that's the right way to describe the river," Mendez said. "The Deschutes River is essentially a wild river that poses more risk than a playground."

"There's always going to be some inherent risk at getting in the water," he added. "There are steps you can take to make your experience safer, things like wear a PFD, don't drink alcohol, use a high-quality inner tube. One of the rentals is a great option. "

The executive director of Bend Park and Rec issued this statement Friday:

“On behalf of all of us at Bend Park and Recreation District, our thoughts are with the family and friends of Joseph C. Torkelson. It always saddens us when a patron gets hurt at any of our facilities.

The Deschutes River has inherent hazards and dangers and unfortunately, recreating in the river can never be without risk. We have taken measures to caution river users of hazards at the Bend Whitewater Park and strongly encourage all river users to heed these precautions.

River floaters should never enter the whitewater (center) channel from upriver. To help prevent this, a prominent boom on the river and signage provide warning and a deterrent. It is imperative to abide by river safety precautions in flat water as well as in active currents and rapids. Rivers users at the whitewater park or elsewhere should always wear a lifejacket, never float the river while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and never tether watercraft together.

I thank responders and bystanders as well as the hospital personnel for their efforts.”

  • Don Horton, Executive Director, Bend Park and Recreation District
Article Topic Follows: Bend

KTVZ News Team


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