By Garth Meyer
Late Friday morning, the ambulance moved slowly through Palouse.
It went past McLeod’s Market, the community center and by the city council chambers.
It had been on site above the Palouse River along North River Road after a call for a missing kayaker the day before. The search and rescue operation went overnight Thursday and into Friday morning.
But the ambulance returned down Main Street like any other vehicle, its sirens quiet, its speed without emphasis.
The body of Alison Webb had been found about 8:30 a.m. Friday, Nov. 22. Next to her was her dog, waiting alongside.
According to Whitman County Sheriff Brett Myers, she was found on a grassy spot above water
He indicated that the calm water and low depths this time of year may have made the river more dangerous.
“The water’s so low, a watercraft could run aground where there is still current,” he said, indicating that hitting a rock could turn a kayak sideways and capsize it.
Webb’s 12-foot orange kayak was found 30 to 40 yards from her body. From all indications, Myers said the incident that sent her into the water happened “very near” where she was found. The small dog was riding in or on the kayak with her.
“She had made it mostly on shore herself,” Myers said. “She probably stumbled to that location. Once the kayak capsized with that cold of air and water, she almost immediately would be rendered with problems with dexterity. Hypothermic conditions would come on almost immediately. She really only had a couple minutes.”
Even her ability to yell for help would have been affected, Myers said.
On a night which the temperature reached as low as seven degrees, searchers walked the Palouse River’s shore of varying terrain. In addition, a helicopter crew flew back and forth with a spotlight, but what they all were looking for was hard to find.
“Even during the day,” Myers said, noting that it took time for the chopper to spot the kayak and body from the air the next morning.
“From that height, the grass is tall, the dog was hard to see and the kayak was up under brush,” Myers said.
The ground search on a four-mile stretch of the river began Thursday night with a Whitman County crew starting in Palouse going upriver from town, combing the riverbank on each side. Meanwhile, a Latah County crew began at Webb’s put-in site near Wellesley Road across the Idaho border. They met in the middle at 4 a.m.
The varying steep and wooded shoreline made it impossible for the groups to completely search the river banks at night.
“The tragedy is that we couldn’t get there sooner,” Myers said. “We did everything we could and our hearts go out to the family.”
A Medstar helicopter searched the area with a spotlight starting about 10 p.m. Thursday night. On Friday morning, a chopper from Fairchild Air Force Base arrived at about 7 a.m. They located Webb about an hour and a half later.
Pete Martin, Whitman County Coroner, determined the cause of death as hypothermia, with an approximate time of death of 4:30 p.m. Thursday.
“Your body temperature drops like that and you become dysfunctional, muscle-wise, brain-wise,” he said. “You’re too confused, too stiff and too weak to move.”
He estimates she was alive for 30 minutes after going into the water, with unconsciousness setting in within five to 10 minutes.
“None of us appreciates how cold that is,” he said, indicating the water temperature was in the 30s.
Overall, Palouse Fire Chief Mike Bagott noted how unusual the incident was.
“It’s pretty rare that this happens,” said Bagott, a 19-year veteran of the Palouse department. “We’ve been very fortunate. This is the first (river fatality ) in my time.”
Webb had set out Thursday on an afternoon kayak trip. When she failed to return at the expected time, family members became concerned and conducted a brief search before they called 911 at about 8 p.m.
All told, crews from the Latah County Sheriff’s Office, Latah County Search and Rescue, Whitman County Emergency Management, MedStar, Fairchild Air Force Base, Whitman County Sheriff’s Office, Palouse Fire and EMS, Border Patrol, Whitman County Coroner and the American Red Cross assisted in the search.
“I would encourage people to be as prepared as possible, to be aware of how quickly something like that can go bad,” Bagott said.
By Sally Ousley
An account of wolves killing horses in the LaCrosse or Dusty area appears to have been a false rumor. State Fish and Wildlife Officer Doug King last Thursday said he was aware of the account but unable to substantiate the report.
King told the Gazette last Thursday he was aware of the rumor and was investigating. Contacted Monday, King said he concluded it did not happen.
WDFW Region Director Steve Pozzanghera said area enforcement officers spent a lot of time tracking down any information about wolf kills and he said there was “no substance to the rumors.”
Pozzanghera, however, added he won’t rule out that wolves could be in the LaCrosse-Dusty area.
“We take any reports seriously,” he said. “It’s not like it couldn’t happen in the area. We know we’ve got transients moving in and out of northeast Oregon and western Idaho.
“Now they’re looking for food,” he said. “They’re not just in a timberland habitat. This time of year, they’re checking things out.”
He said a wolf pack is defined as two or more wolves traveling together.
Pozzanghera said attacks on livestock in general are uncommon and attacks on horses are unusual.
Wolves normally attack sheep and calves, he said.
The larger wolf packs in Washington are in the north central part of the state. WDFW officers have placed radio transmitters on some wolves and since the radios have been activated, WDFW officials have determined that home ranges for the packs are more than 250 square miles. Pozzanghera said they are seeing even larger ranges in Washington.
The ranges can fluctuate in size depending on the time of year.
When packs have pups, range size is reduced. But when the pack is hunting for elk and deer, ranges expand as wolves follow food sources. Young male wolves venture away from packs as they establish their own territories.
In Idaho, a confirmed wolf attack on a horse was reported Aug. 20 at West Pass Creek, about 20 miles south of Clayton, according to an Idaho Fish and Game Department wildlife manager in Boise.
A WDFW web site map, which charts wolf sightings in the last year, lists the latest sighting close to St. John Nov. 3. It also lists a sighting in the Steptoe Butte area last January.
Pozzanghera encourages anyone who sees a wolf or any evidence of wolves to report it immediately to wdfw.wa.gov.
Jamie Ohl is especially grateful this Thanksgiving.
As the WSU senior was traveling from her home in Richland to Pullman on May 30, her 2002 Ford Escape went off Highway 26 at Dusty and rolled on its top. LaCrosse and Colfax rescue voluneers worked approximately 40 minutes to extricate her from the inverted vehicle.
On Friday afternoon, Ohl, accompanied by her parents, Phil and Diane Ohl, visited the EMTs at both departments. To show the family’s appreciation, they donated $1,000 to each department.
Ohl, who was 21 at the time of the accident and is now 22, said she doesn’t remember much about the wreck.
Ohl said she left home about 4 a.m. Ohl said she was going to work that day at Pullman Building Supply and arrived at Dusty about 7 a.m.
“I fell asleep, and I vaguely remember waking up driving on the shoulder,” she said Friday.
She said she over corrected twice and then knew the SUV was going to roll.
LaCrosse EMTs were notified first, then Colfax was called. Colfax EMT Scott Kruse said it took them 17 minutes to get to the scene. Four EMTs worked on getting Ohl out of the vehicle. A MedStar helicopter arrived and flew her to Spokane.
Ohl said she doesn’t remember a thing until a couple of days later when she woke up in Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center in Spokane. She was in the intensive care unit for a week. Her hospital stay was followed by a week and a half in rehabilitation at St. Luke’s. Her total hospital stay was 35 days.
Ohl sustained extensive injuries to her left shoulder, right knee and back. Doctors also discovered after she was in the hospital for three weeks that both her hands were broken and needed surgery to repair all the broken bones in them as well.
Kruse said although Ohl can’t remember anything after the accident, she was mumbling to them. She also corrected them several times when they called her by the wrong name, but Ohl said she has no memory of that either.
“It puts everything into perspective,” Ohl said as she visited with Colfax EMTs. “I’m thankful to be here. I’m thankful to you and to LaCrosse. I have so many blessings.”
“These guys are all heroes,” she said. “It’s nothing short of a miracle that I’m here.”
Phil Ohl said they have a strong church family.
“There’s been lots of prayers, and we have lots of friends and family,” he said.
“She’s our little miracle girl,” he said. “We’re all thankful.”
“God bless every one of you,” she said.
Her father said a big advance in her recovery recently has been the ability to get out of a wheel chair and walk.
Ohl plans to resume studies at WSU in the Tri Cities next semester and, because she has switched majors, will have two more years of college before she gets a degree.
A survey indicated that 50 percent of America shops on Black Friday.
With all the images of people camping out in front of stores, trying to cram through entrance doors and frantically grabbing at merchandise while shouldering away other shoppers, it seems the entire country shops the day after Thanksgiving.
In fact, Black Friday has become so big that it has now slopped over on Thanksgiving itself.
Then, Cyber Monday starts. The day of frenzied internet shopping.
Squeezed in between is a very important shopping event. It is Shop Small Saturday. It is intended to encourage people to shop their local stores, most of which are locally owned, independent businesses.
Shopping locally is important throughout the year. Shop Small Saturday is a reminder of that and encouragement to visit local stores during the holiday gift-giving season.
Local merchants and service providers are usually at the core of a community and represent the heart of a downtown. They are the ones who support local projects, local fundraisers and schools. They are the ones who hire local residents, pay taxes and give variety and opportunity to small communities.
Shop Small Saturday is an invitation to everyone to shop their local stores and support them as they support their communities.
If squeezing through a doors or being shoved around by other shoppers is not your idea of fun, your local merchants are available to assist you this holiday season.