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Search continues for last boater missing from Sept. 1 crash

October 14, 2018 GMT

TOPOCK — The Mohave County Sheriff’s Office announced Saturday afternoon that the search for the last boater missing from a collision Sept. 1 near Topock Marina will continue until she is found.

The person unaccounted for is presumed to be Raegan Heitzig. Though official identification of the final boater hasn’t yet occurred, she was identified as “Raegan” in a posting on the Sheriff’s Office’s Facebook page Saturday.

“Our agency feels very strongly that this search will not end until Raegan is located, and our main goal remains wanting to bring closure to the family and the community,” the post stated.

Three other boaters were killed in the nighttime collision but were accounted for soon after the incident occurred: Christine Lewis, 51, of Visalia, California; Brian Grabowski, 50, of Tulare, California; and Kirra Drury, 24, of Ventura, California.

None of the 16 people in the two boats involved were wearing life jackets.

The Sheriff’s Office said it isn’t discouraging the community’s efforts to create volunteer search teams. However, “any future large scale searches conducted by volunteers should be coordinated with Mohave County Sheriff’s Office so as to not hinder any previously scheduled plans made by the Division of Boating Safety.”

The post also noted that the searches have continued since the collision occurred and consist of shoreline and top-water searches, diving, search-and-rescue dogs, kayakers, drones, helicopters, and sonar.

Sgt. Kyler Cox, MCSO Division of Boating Safety’s volunteer services coordinator, provided specifics about the search to the Daily News.

“Most of our day-to-day searching has consisted of top water and shoreline searching. We have also deployed divers in certain areas of interest,” Cox said. “We have utilized side scan sonar to search the river and lake bottoms, as well as using a remote operated vehicle.”

The side scan sonar has been used intermittently on the division’s dive operating vessel. It’s towed in the water and projects sound waves that return to the sonar system.

“The system then turns these sound waves into an image that we can look at. One of our trained sonar operators then looks at the image and marks potential targets. Once those targets are marked, we deploy either our ROV or divers to further investigate the marked target,” Cox explained.

“Bruce’s Legacy,” a nonprofit group based in Black River Falls, Wisconsin, has been trying to find Heitzig alongside MCSO searchers since Oct. 5. It became involved in the effort after Grabowski’s wife and Heitzig’s cousin, Tabby Grabowski, asked for their assistance. The MCSO provided them perimeter security boats, divers, and has allowed them to use law enforcement facilities and docks.

Search-and-rescue canines specifically trained in water searches for cadavers have been used for several days and have investigated several areas further, but haven’t located anything of interest.

“Although this is one of our longer search operations, we have had some other lengthy searches in the past. Water, especially involving river currents, can be extremely unpredictable,” Cox said. “Things are constantly evolving and the search area can change from one day to the next.”

The investigation into the accident itself continues as well. Cox also said boat crashes are difficult to investigate and reconstruct.

That’s because “everything is moving and, unlike car crashes, evidence can be lost in the river current quickly,” Cox explained.

Also, MCSO is still waiting for toxicology results for both operators.

“With all that in mind, these investigations take time,” Cox added. “We do not want to prematurely release investigative information without having all the pieces of the puzzle.”

There is a revision of the MCSO diving schedule as coordinated with San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Office: Diving originally scheduled for Oct. 18-21 instead will be on Oct. 18-19. There will be intermittent river closures for the safety of the divers.