One Man Dead, Another Missing On Tonto Creek

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One man has been found dead and a second is still missing after being swept away by the raging waters of Tonto Creek Tuesday morning, police said.

The Gila County Sheriff's Office, with the help of the Gila County Sheriff's Posse, the Department of Public Safety, the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office, Tonto Rim Search and Rescue, the U.S. Army Reserves, and the Channel 5 helicopter, still searches for the missing man.

The only Blackhawk helicopter in the state joined the rescue effort Tuesday morning.

"The water came up really fast," GCSO Dep. Jeff Slider reported. "It went from ankle high to around knee deep real fast."

The conditions -- high, swift water and boggy ground -- are making the search difficult.

The two men and woman were in a backhoe at the edge of the creek at a crossing near the Punkin Center Store when their backhoe tipped over, police said. The woman was found clinging to a tree around 2:30 a.m. She was rescued by helicopter, treated at Payson Regional Medical Center and released.

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A Gila County Sheriff's Posse member looks at a news helicopter hovering over Tonto Creek. Both the posse and Tonto Rim Search and Rescue conducted ground searches along the creek, hoping to find the last missing men.

The GCSO was called out to the incident around 10:30 p.m. Monday. At press time, it was unclear whether the three were trying to cross the creek in the backhoe or just looking at the water. The names of the victims have not been released.

Continuing rains and rising water in Tonto Basin, Gisela and Roosevelt Estates prompted the GCSO to issue residents a high-water notification late Monday night. Residents were warned they might have to evacuate, however, since waters around Gisela have receded, no evacuations are planned.

An evacuation center has been established at the Tonto Basin School in Punkin Center by Red Cross personnel from Phoenix and Payson.

To accommodate all the extra people and vehicles making use of the school facility, Ketchem said classes were canceled Tuesday.

He said 14 evacuees spent the night at the school and his food services people fixed them breakfast Tuesday morning.

GCSO Dispatch Supervisor Fritz Day said 20 people were evacuated due to water in their mobile homes, but 16 have left to stay with relatives.

A total of 25 law enforcement officials and volunteers are involved in the search for the missing man.

About 600 people live on the north side of Tonto Creek in the neighborhoods and ranches around Punkin Center. They have been asking for a safe crossing for more than 30 years.

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