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Apparent false alarm triggers St. Helens search and rescue

CRF&R: No one fell from River Street bluff Tuesday, despite reports


by: MARK MILLER - Neal Sheppeard (left), St. Helens Public Works Department interim co-director, oversees his agency's efforts to clear brush as emergency responders searched for a person who had reportedly fallen from the North River Street bluff Tuesday, July 8. It was ultimately determined that it was a false report.Emergency responders and St. Helens Public Works Department crews responded Tuesday, July 8, to reports that someone may have fallen off a bluff, but after searching the area, they determined no one was there.

Firefighters, paramedics, police officers and maintenance workers searched an area at the foot of the bluff overlooking the St. Helens Marina from about 2:20 p.m. until about 3:40 p.m., hacking and sawing through dense ground cover, but found no sign of a person or body in the brush.

Chief Jay Tappan of Columbia River Fire & Rescue said during the search that he believed the report may have been a hoax.

At least two people at the scene, high school students Alex Anderson and James Brodala, claimed they heard screams and the sound of people fighting, but they did not actually see anyone fall from the bluff — about a 40-foot drop into a thick cluster of blackberry vines and bushes.

“I think they walked up that way and then got into a fight up there,” said Brodala, indicating the bluff.

North River and Wyeth streets run atop the southern end of the bluff.

Watching the scene from alongside North River Street as Public Works crews cut swaths through the vegetation below, Tappan said reports from people who claimed to hear the alleged commotion were unclear.

“Nobody saw it — that's the problem,” said Tappan.

A LifeFlight medical helicopter was ordered to stand by as the search and rescue operation unfolded, according to Tappan, but it was never actually called to St. Helens.

Just before 3:40 p.m., CRF&R, Public Works and other agencies responding to the scene began to pack in their gear and take down the yellow “caution” tape cordoning off the area.

Neal Sheppeard, a Public Works interim co-director, said the operation had been called off.

“They figure nobody's there,” said Sheppeard.

CRF&R Division Chief Eric Smythe said crews had cleared enough of the vegetation that if there was a person or body at the foot of the cliff, they would be able to spot it.

“We can see almost everywhere,” said Smythe, adding that the blackberry plants were thick enough at the base of the bluff that a person who fell off it would likely land on top of the brush rather than crashing through it.

The apparent false report came less than a week after a man fell from the same bluff further north on North River Street late on Friday, July 4, suffering injuries that required him to be hospitalized. Tappan said alcohol was a contributing factor in that fall. The man's name has not been released.

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