‘It’s heartbreaking’: Two men drown in two days at Corbin Park; Kootenai Co. firefighters encouraging life jackets

POST FALLS, Idaho — Two families have been hit with heartbreaking losses. In the past two days, two people have drowned in the Spokane River in Post Falls.

On Friday around 6:00 p.m., a woman and her child went into the river at Corbin Park. They were in a kayak. It flipped over. The woman’s husband, 35-year-old Luke Gardner, jumped in to save them. The child was wearing a life jacket. Gardner and the woman were not.

“The kids and the mother made it safely back to shore, but unfortunately the dad did not,” said Kootenai County Fire & Rescue Chief Chris Way.

People on shore believed Gardner got out safely as well. After family and friends started looking for him, authorities were called. An hour after he went missing, he was found. According to the sheriff’s office, he was taken to the shore. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

Nearly 24 hours later, a similar situation at Corbin Park. A few hundred feet from where Gardner went into the water, a 61-year-old Hauser Lake grandfather and his two grandchildren got into the water in a kayak.

Around 4:45 p.m. Saturday, the Kootenai County Sheriff’s Office dive rescue team was called. The kayak reportedly hit a set of rapids and the boat flipped. All three of them were thrown in the water. The two children were wearing life jackets. The man was not.

Officials say he did not come out of the water and couldn’t be found. Both the sheriff’s office dive team and the fire department’s water rescue team searched for four hours.

“The search was called off due to diver exhaustion, depleted resources, and unsafe conditions due to time of night,” the sheriff’s office said.

The next morning, divers searched the water again. The man was found around 10:15 a.m. Sunday.

Firefighters are warning people about the dangers of the water below the Avista Dam.

“The river is moving so fast right now. The dam is open,” Way said. “The dam isn’t anticipated to shut down for a few more days, at least possibly even until next weekend. We know it’s a big weekend for the Fourth of July.”

Way said the water can also create eddies. It’s where the water swirls and can suck somebody down under the water.

The chief is also encouraging the use of life jackets.

“We want to tell people that they got to wear their life jackets if they’re going to get in the water,” Way explained. “Better yet, if you’re not an experienced swimmer or you don’t know what you’re doing. This is dangerous water to be in.”

He said it’s vital to not only wear one but to get the right size.

“Keeping it buckled appropriately is important,” Way said. “Wearing the appropriate size is important because if you don’t buckle it appropriately, it’s going to come off. The water is just moving so quickly that if you don’t, we’re going to end up having another incident like we did.”

He said his team of rescuers won’t go near the water without a life jacket on and encourages everyone to do the same. Way explained that people should get a life jacket based on the type of activity they’re doing.

“We want you to enjoy responsibly, so we want you to pay attention to wear your life jacket in the water,” he said. “Alcohol and water don’t mix. We don’t want people out drinking and boating, drinking and swimming.

Way wants people to respect the water and treat it appropriately by wearing a life jacket.

The name of the 61-year-old recovered on Sunday morning has not been released.

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