Accident Database

Report ID# 3535

  • Flush Drowning
  • Does not Apply
  • High Water
  • One Boat Trip

Accident Description

07-02-11 GREEN RIVER, WY

Accident on Green River kills one child

The father and step-grandfather of a 4-y/o boy who drowned in the Green River Sat. (07-02) are being charged with aggravated homicide by vehicle after their canoe capsized near LaBarge. The canoe crashed into a group of willows and flipped over on the fast-moving river, sending the occupants into the water. Two other children, an 8 -y/o and 1 ½-y/o, were also in the canoe, but survived. The 4-y/o was found several miles downstream of the accident and could not be resuscitated.

Along with the felony charge, the father of all 3 children, 26-y/o Matthew Cooper of Diamondville, and step-grandfather, 48-y/o Franklin Parks of Kemmerer, are also facing several misdemeanor charges of criminally negligent homicide, reckless endangering and operating a watercraft while intoxicated.

According to Sublette Co. Sheriff's Office (SCSO) Detective Alaric Kaderavek, who interviewed the men after the incident, Cooper and Parks brought a 12-pack and 6-pack of beer and additional cans of Chelada, a flavored beer, with them on the canoe. Cooper is also charged with child endangerment, which is a misdemeanor. The charges were filed in Sublette Co. Circuit Court Wed. At the time the men launched the canoe around 2 p.m. June 2, the Green River was about 9.19 ft, above flood level, according to the National Weather Service in Riverton.

Big Piney Mayor Phillip Smith allegedly warned the men before they launched the canoe at Dry Piney Access of the danger of the high river running extremely fast. Cooper confirmed the warning later when speaking with Kaderavek. Smith called the SCSO at approximately 2:13 p.m. Sat. and reported he was concerned about the boaters' safety. SCSO deputies immediately went en route to the scene. A short time later, Smith again called the SCSO to report the canoe had capsized and the boaters were in the water. Cooper later told Kaderavek the group had no problems during the first 45 minutes of their trip down the river. However, later, the canoe turned to face upstream twice. Then, the canoe approached a Y in the river and turned sideways, hit some willows in the center of the river and flipped, sending all occupants into the water, according to the affidavit.

A Sublette Co. Tip Top Search and Rescue swift water team responded to the Green River, as did a short-haul helicopter contracted to Sublette Co. for the summer. Once on scene, part of the Tip Top rescue team put in a drift boat at Dry Piney Creek where the canoe party had put in, while other rescuers rode in a jet boat downstream of where they believed the canoe had overturned, said Tip Top Administrator Jason Ray. The helicopter, piloted by John Ruhl, flew overhead providing aerial reconnaissance which proved to be invaluable to him and other rescuers in the boats.

After capsizing, those in the canoe had scattered over several miles. The helicopter located the 8-y/o, who was in between 2 river channels, which the boat crews could not have seen from the water. The members of the canoe party were brought to the Big Piney/Marbleton Clinic. LaBarge Fireman Woodrow Studt found the 4-y/o and performed CPR. The child was pronounced dead at the clinic. Preliminary autopsy reports confirm the cause of death was drowning. An autopsy is being conducted at the McKee Medical Center in Loveland, Colo. The final autopsy report is not yet available.

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