Body of flood victim found at Greentree Park

August 21, 2018

More than two dozen vehicles remained stranded Tuesday morning in floodwaters on Odana Road just west of Grand Canyon Boulevard. Detention ponds between Odana and Mineral Point roads were unable to contain Monday night's torrential rains.

A man swept away by flood waters was found Tuesday morning about 500 yards from where his car had become stuck in a culvert on the city’s Southwest Side.

The identity of the man, believed to be in 70s, has not been released. Two other people in the vehicle escaped with the help of passers by, said Clayton Christenson, an assistant chief with the Madison Fire Department.

The victim was found just after 10 a.m. in a grove of trees along a detention pond in Greentree Park. The pond is located at the end of a long drainage ditch that carries water through the park. The Madison Fire Department’s Water Rescue Team had been searching for the man since about 9:15 p.m. Monday.

“Typically, in Madison, we don’t see a lot of swift water and flood conditions but for (a body) to travel that far you can imagine the amount of water that was moving through here,” said Lt. Cory Reno, a member of the lakes rescue team.

Firefighters used poles, prods and rakes to search the drainage ditch which at one point held over 8-feet of water. As the water receded, crews again checked the area and also brought in a drone from the Madison Police Department. Divers were about to be deployed into the detention pond when the man’s body was located at the edge of the pond, Christenson said.

The man, according to Christensen, had been driving his car south on Chapel Hill Road, when it appears he became confused and turned east onto the Norman Clayton Bike Path. The vehicle ultimately became stuck in the drainage ditch, about 10 feet from Chapel Hill Road, where two culverts carry water under the street.

Two passengers were removed from the vehicle by Matt Phair, a member of the Madison City Council, and his wife Connie Phair, who live nearby and had been out on their bicycles checking out of the storm. A third passerby, whose name remains unknown, helped Matt Phair steady the driver in the raging water after he had gotten out of the vehicle and became submerged. At that point Phair and the other man grabbed the victim but the force of the water made it difficult to keep their feet and hold the victim, an emotional Phair said Tuesday morning.

“I knew that if I take a couple steps I might get sucked under, too, so I knew I couldn’t go any further, ” Phair said. “I didn’t want to try to let go of the shirt to grab something else. We evetually held for as long as we could but the water just overpowered us and he was gone.”

Phair, a teacher in Mount Horeb, said after the man was swept away he ran to the other side of Chapel Hill Road expecting the man to be flushed out of one of the two culverts but the man never appeared.

Christianson said the incident is believed to be the first fatality attributed to flooding in the city in “many years.” Over 50 water rescues were performed Monday night throughout the city including one instance where a man was saved after he was pulled by firefighters through the sunroof of his car.

The city was littered Tuesday with abandoned vehicles that attempted to drive through rising water. Some of the bigger scenes included Mineral Point and Odana roads that became inundated with floodwaters between Gammon Road and Grand Canyon Boulevard when detention ponds that double as soccer fields became overwhelmed with the torrential rains.

“We’ve always said water is very unforgiving and you’ve got to respect it,” Christenson said. “Swift water is an animal that you can never tame. You can’t control it.”

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