Man says deputies saved his life in river near Finley

By Sara Schilling, Tri-City HeraldAugust 1, 2013 

canoe river safety saved two rivers

Joe Dawson, right, of Kennewick, was canoeing with his son Jason and dog Max near Two Rivers Park in Finley. Two Walla Walla County sheriff's deputies saved them after they capsized. "We got humbled," said Jason of the experience. "I thought we were bulletproof," said Joe.

KAI-HUEI YAU — Tri-City Herald Buy Photo

Joe Dawson was exhausted.

He had on a life jacket, but it was the kind made for a pond or lake, not the strong Columbia River.

And just before he capsized, "I was scanning. There wasn't a boat within a mile of us," he said.

He knew he was in trouble.

But then, seemingly out of nowhere, a Walla Walla County sheriff's vessel arrived, with deputies Richard Schram and Ryan Allen on board. They had spotted Dawson, 75, of Kennewick, and his son, Jason, 42, in the river on Sunday after their canoe flipped between Two Rivers and Sacajawea parks.

Dawson's dog, Max, also was along for the canoe ride and was perched atop the overturned craft. The deputies helped the Dawsons and Max onto their boat and took them back to shore.

It was a scary ordeal with a happy ending. And it has left Joe and Jason feeling lucky and grateful.

"They didn't just help me -- they saved my life," Joe Dawson said of the deputies.

The Dawsons are experienced in the water, having canoed for years. On Sunday afternoon, they were testing out using a motor ahead of a long canoe trip they have planned in two weeks.

But as they cut across the river, the canoe tipped over in the rolling water, and the motor was heavy enough that they couldn't flip the craft back over from their position in the drink, they said.

"It humbles you in seconds," Joe Dawson said. "When you're in the water and the only thing out of the water is your head and you're trying to hold onto the keel of the canoe, and the water is moving -- you (can't) know how bad it is until you're there. These officers need credit."

Schram and Allen, who were on marine patrol in the area, since have been commended by their boss. Sheriff John Turner said in a statement that their actions were "in keeping with the highest standards of devoted public service and the vision, mission and core values of the Walla Walla Sheriff's Office."

The Dawsons said that, with the adrenaline pumping, they can't be sure exactly how long they were in the water before the deputies spotted them, but it was probably a matter of minutes.

Joe Dawson said he's writing a letter of thanks.

He also said the experience hasn't turned him off canoeing -- far from it. But next time, he'll wear a sturdier life jacket before setting out.

He and his son both said they hope others learn from their experience.

"My biggest concern is boater safety," Jason Dawson said. "This experience could have taken one of our lives. Be prepared for the worst when you're out there."

w Sara Schilling: 582-1529; sschilling@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @saraTCHerald.

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