Second Body Found In Creek Drowning


The body of a second man who fell into the swollen waters of Tonto Creek and disappeared late Monday night has been recovered.

A Department of Public Safety Ranger helicopter spotted the body of Michael Nowlan, 54, late Thursday afternoon, Gila County Sheriff's Lt. Adam Shepherd said.

Nowlan was trying to forge the swift creek on his backhoe with Timothy Thibodeau, 54, and Diane Powers, 40, all residents of Tonto Basin, when the backhoe overturned, dumping them into the water around 10:30 p.m. Monday. Powers called 911 on her cell phone, deputies said.

Powers told deputies that the three were testing the depth of the creek's waters when the accident occurred, the sheriff's department said.

Maricopa County and DPS helicopters were dispatched to the scene shortly after receiving Powers' emergency call.

A DPS helicopter rescued Powers, who clung to a tree in the swift water, around 2 a.m.

Mechanical problems and inclement weather delayed the rescue of Nowlan and Thibodeau for four hours.

Search crews located Thibodeau's body early Tuesday morning, close to where they found Powers.

"We could not get to (Thibodeau) with the helicopter," Shepherd said. "Then we tried to put our dive team down with a helicopter but that didn't work -- the current was just too strong."

Deputies and rescue personnel were unable to remove Thibodeau's body until Wednesday afternoon when the weather improved and some of the water had receded.

More than 600 people reside on the east side of Tonto Creek and, for decades, have asked for a safe water crossing. In 1993, the creek was impassible for nearly a month and a helicopter had to fly in food, supplies and medicine to those trapped.

One man was killed in 1995, and another woman died in 1996 as they tried to cross the creek. Many others have had to be rescued from the swift waters.

On Thursday, the first shipment of supplies was dropped from a Blackhawk helicopter by U.S. Army Reserves for residents who were unable to leave the area. Longtime resident Brenda Straw said she and her neighbors may be stranded for the next couple of weeks.

Environmental and financial issues, coupled with the federal government's control over the creek bank and riparian areas, have prevented progress on a safe crossing.

Rep. Rick Renzi secured $150,000 in 2003 for an environmental assessment, which has since been completed and passed along to Congress for approval.

Straw said a previous assessment was conducted a few years earlier and things went nowhere.

"We've gone this far before," she said.

Lonny Cline, a heavy equipment operator with Gila County and a longtime resident who lives on the east side of the creek, which is normally nothing more than a rivulet, said people would be satisfied with a concrete slab or a culvert.

"We need some kind of crossing," Cline told the Roundup in March of 2003, as he was delivering medicine to residents stranded on the east side. "We all know a bridge is a long ways off, but we need to get a crossing for these people so they can get to work and school safely."

"We can put men on the moon, but we have to have four people die before we can get any attention here," Straw said. "We just want a safe crossing."

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