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Illegal activities move downstream

Deputies step up patrols along Sandy River after 11 deaths in 10-day period
by: John Klicker, During the hot spell last week a youth jumps into the Sandy River, which can be dangerous because of the strong currents that can sweep objects downstream quickly.

TROUTDALE - A number of local water-related deaths and increasing levels of illegal activity at Dabney State Park have prompted Multnomah County sheriff's deputies to spend more time patrolling popular swimming sites along the Sandy River this summer.

There have been 11 deaths on Oregon waterways in a 10-day period. Two men - Gresham resident Edward Wyatt Jr. and Southeast Portland resident Andy Panyanouvath - died near Dabney State Park in Troutdale last week.

Wyatt, 40, died of blunt force trauma to the chest after he reportedly dove off a 30-to-50-foot-high cliff across from the park. He attempted to do a flip, failed and landed on his stomach when he hit the water, said Lt. Jason Gates, Multnomah County Sheriff's Office spokesman. Panyanouvath, 20, got caught in a strong current, panicked and drowned, Gates said.

Although alcohol was not involved in either of the instances cited above, it can become a problem at popular swimming spots, like Dabney State Park.

Although alcohol is allowed in select designated spots at Dabney State Park, it is not permitted on the beach.

Individuals who intend to go swimming or boating are encouraged not to drink, as alcohol is involved in one third of all boating accidents in Oregon.

Glenn Otto Community Park in Troutdale used to be a popular place for underage drinking, but that died out in 1999, when a program by the Troutdale Boosters and American Medical Response put lifeguards at the park between Memorial Day and Labor Day.

'It did move a lot of people along,' Gates said, but those people wishing to party simply found a new location.

Three years ago there was a huge influx of underage drinking on the beaches across from Oxbow Regional Park near Gordon Creek Road, Gates said.

'We cracked down on that area and did a lot of enforcement with (minors in possession),' and parking tickets, Gates said, adding that there were very few problems at the park last year. 'We ran them out of there.'

Once again, the illegal drinking and partying moved to a new location - this time to Dabney State Park.

'It's kind of like herding cows, but we're not going to quit,' Gates said. 'If you want to go and use our natural scenic areas as a place to engage in illegal activity, the Multnomah County Sheriff's Office will be right on your heels.'

The issue is not only one of safety, but it's also about improving the livability of the area for residents whose property abuts the park.

'We have to get the message across to people that you can't come down here and engage in this type of activity,' Gates said.

Sheriff's deputies will increase patrols in the area and have posted no alcohol, no dogs and no parking zone signs in the area to try to cut down on the illegal activities taking place in the park.

These extra patrols are particularly important as the probability of someone getting hurt or dying on the river increases with alcohol consumption, Gates said.

To help promote safe practices, members of the Daughters of Neptune, a teen youth organization sponsored by local yacht clubs, conducted a water safety education program Saturday, July 1, at Dabney State Park in cooperation with the Multnomah County Sheriff's Office River Patrol Unit.

Members of the group presented a number of tips on swimming and boating safety, provided families with coloring books about water safety and loaned lifejackets to park users.

According to information provided on the Oregon State Marine Board's Web site, www.boatoregon.com, drowning is the second leading cause of child fatalities.

Oregon law requires that children age 12 and younger wear lifejackets when they are on boats. Children should also wear personal flotation devices any time they are near water, regardless of whether they plan to swim or just play on a beach or a dock.

The Daughters of Neptune will offer a similar presentation Saturday, July 29, at Blue Lake Regional Park in Fairview.