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Troopers honored for lifesaving actions on Columbia

Three Oregon State Police (OSP) troopers were honored Friday for rescuing a fishing party after their boat capsized in the Columbia River last spring.

OSP Superintendent Ronald Ruecker arrived at the Hood River County Courthouse on Sept. 28 to present a special award to OSP Sergeant Julie Wilcox and two OSP Fish and Wildlife officers, David Anderson and Craig Gunderson.

"The swift and professional action by these three officers substantially contributed to saving the lives of these three men," said Lieutenant Michael Davidson, station commander at the OSP headquarters in The Dalles

Wilcox, Anderson and Gunderson were given the Harold R. Berg Lifesaving Award, a top OSP honor. The award was established in memory of the lieutenant who was washed out to sea in 1975 while searching a cave at Cape Lookout State Park to find a lost boy scout. It is intended to recognize the contributions of OSP officers who have distinguished themselves by performing or reacting to a situation in a positive and professional manner which saves lives or prevents serious injury from occurring.

On the morning of March 6, a 9-1-1 emergency call was placed by Patricia Combs, a distraught fisherman's wife. She reported from the shoreline that her husband, Edward Combs, 44, and two friends, Anthony Catron, 18, and Billy Patton, 22, had just capsized their small boat in the choppy, icy waters of the Columbia about 10 miles west of Hood River.

Wilcox, who was on patrol in the area, overhead the radio dispatch and sped to the scene after calling for aid from Anderson and Gunderson, who had just been preparing to take off on a regular patrol of the river from the Hood River marina.

When Wilcox arrived at the location where Patricia Combs was waiting, she observed that the three men were not wearing life vests and were clinging to the overturned boat about 50 yards off shore. Since they had already been in the 41-degree water for about 20 minutes, Wilcox advised ambulance personnel, who were already enroute, that the trio would most likely be suffering from hypothermia.

In fact, Catron registered a core temperature reading of just 78 degrees when he was pulled from the water about 20 minutes later by Anderson and Gunderson. All three men recovered from the incident which reportedly occurred when they took off in the small craft, which was loaded with extra clothing and equipment, to fish for sturgeon. However, they were unable to navigate the heavy swells created by wind gusts of between 15-20 knots.

Wilcox is a 14-year veteran of the OSP currently assigned to The Dalles office. Anderson has been assigned to the Fish & Wildlife Division out of Hood River since joining the OSP four-and-one-half years ago. Gunderson had been an OSP trooper for two-and-a-half years and currently works out of The Dalles office.

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