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Elbert man dies after pontoon boat goes over reservoir spillway in Garfield County

Elbert man dies after pontoon boat goes over reservoir spillway in Garfield County
Posted at 10:10 AM, Jun 21, 2024

GARFIELD COUNTY, Colo. — An Elbert man died after the personal pontoon boat he was in went over the spillway of a reservoir in Garfield County Sunday afternoon.

According to Garfield County Coroner Robert M. Glassmire, his office was dispatched to the Bear Lake Reservoir, also known as the Upper Stillwater Reservoir, in the northeast corner of Garfield County near Yampa around 1:02 p.m. Sunday.

Glassmire said first responders were told that a man had gone over the spillway of the reservoir and was found deceased downriver. Witnesses reported that the man was on a personal pontoon boat when strong wind gusts pushed the boat toward the spillway.

The man was later identified as Jerry Whaley, 46, of Elbert. Glassmire said Whaley was not wearing a personal flotation device or a helmet.

Investigators with the coroner's office arrived around 3:45 p.m. in order to recover Whaley's body. He was located in whitewater rapids roughly 350 yards from the spillway, according to Glassmire. The embankments on both sides of the Bear River were difficult to ascend and descend, making the recovery mission difficult, according to the coroner.

The coroner's office, Routt County Search and Rescue, the Yampa Fire Protection District and Colorado Parks and Wildlife initiated recovery efforts by installing a high line with ropes, pulleys and personnel on both sides of the river.

Elbert man dies after pontoon boat goes over reservoir spillway in Garfield County

Glassmire said the high line allowed first responders to safely recover Whaley's body.

Once Whaley was brought to shore, personnel used a rope system to bring his body up the embankment. He was then transported to the Garfield County Coroner's Office.

First responders returned to the area on Monday in order to recover the pontoon boat and Whaley's personal effects.

Elbert man dies after pontoon boat goes over reservoir spillway in Garfield County

The coroner's office performed an autopsy Tuesday and determined Whaley died from "the combined effects of drowning and injuries sustained in the incident," according to Glassmire. His death is being investigated as an accident.

In a message, Glassmire, on behalf of the Garfield County Coroner's Office, extended his condolences to Whaley's family.