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No recovery yet of final missing boater from deadly collision

September 7, 2018

Mohave County Sheriff’s Deputies continued their search Thursday for the final victim in a fatal weekend boating accident on the Colorado River.

With fleets of patrol boats, divers, aerial surveillance, drones and a crew of search and rescue kayakers, the Mohave County and San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Departments located three of four boaters missing since Saturday. The last remaining victim, presumed dead, is Raegan Heitzig, of Ventura, California. As time and the river’s current work against search crews, the Mohave County Sheriff’s Office has no intention of stopping.

“The sheriff has made it clear to the families of the victims that we will not stop the search until she is found,” Mohave County Sheriff’s Public Information Officer Anita Mortensen said Thursday afternoon.

According to county officials, the Sheriff’s Office has been bolstered by the efforts of other agencies in the search, as well as dozens of volunteers, fielding as many as 20 watercraft in the area of Topock Gorge as the search continued Thursday. As time passes, however, their search area will expand far beyond the scene of the accident.

A local fisherman found the remains of Heitzig’s uncle, Brian Grabowski, near a buoy about five miles from the crash site on Tuesday.

Dwight Shephard, 80, casts his line in the Colorado River at least four days per week in the early morning hours. On Tuesday, he was accompanied by a friend, Brian Sinclair.

“There was so much ruckus that we couldn’t catch any fish,” Shephard said. “We were about to leave when my buddy said, ‘I think I see something over there’. We doubled back … the body was floating face-down near a buoy. I called 911, and it took 15 minutes for them to make it over to us. We showed them the body, and they had us wait until two more boats came.”

Shephard and Sinclair were detained at the scene while deputies collected their personal information, and were released. According to Shephard, however, another body may have been in the area.

“I saw an ice chest and other items floating in the water nearby, and we were almost five miles from the primary search area,” Shephard said. “They were searching around Devil’s Elbow … a body would have followed the current of the river.”

According to Shephard, the pastime of fishing on the Colorado River will never be the same for him.

“I’m almost scared to go now,” Shephard said. “I might run over a body. I see it some nights … it has an effect on you. That was my place to go and relax. It was my church. But I was doing my duty as a human being, helping someone’s family get closure.”

According to Mohave County Sheriff’s Sgt. Kyler Cox, the current is only one variable in the passage of bodies through the Colorado River.

“It’s difficult to say why one body does something while another will behave differently,” Cox said. “Factors that can affect someone might be body mass, the person’s diet, any injuries they may have and underwater hazards that people can get stuck on. But we’re not going to stop. This person is someone’s family member … we may have to change tactics at some point, but we won’t stop.”

Volunteers from the Mohave County Sheriff’s Search & Rescue team, Posse and Boating Safety Division have comprised the bulk of search efforts, providing deputies with much needed eyes and manpower during their sweep of the river.

“As you can imagine, this has been extremely physically exhausting for all of our members,” Cox said. “We’re a small agency, but we’re supported by several other agencies. We’re doing everything possible to find (Heitzig). It’s physically taxing, and it’s easy to get emotionally attached. Her family has been at our command post every day … everyone wants to find this member of their family, and give them closure.”

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