Body of man missing in Willamette River found by divers

Body of man missing in Willamette River found by divers »Play Video
Photo courtesy of the Clackamas County Sheriff's Office

GLADSTONE, Ore. – Rescue personnel pulled the body of a missing man from the Willamette River Thursday morning, the Clackamas County Sheriff's Office said.

The man was identified as Thomas Ermini, 53, of Milwaukie, Oregon.

According to witnesses, Ermini, his girlfriend Sandra Gracey, 46, and two dogs drove down to a gravel area in a truck near the river Wednesday evening at about 5 p.m. The water began to rise and flood the area, and the couple attempted to get back to a boat dock in their truck.

"They started driving in, and then all of the sudden their headlights started going into the water, and then their truck started floating," said witness Kenny Willsey.

Ermini, the woman and dogs escaped the truck and began swimming to shore. Ermini, however, in trying to help the woman, became exhausted and disappeared beneath the surface of the water.

Gracey screamed for help and fishermen on a nearby boat heard her, found her and pulled her to safety, the witnesses said.

"We could barely just see her arm, her hand splashing in the water, her head wasn't even above water," said fisherman Jason Jennings, who helped pulled the woman out of the water. "She was at the end. Had we been any later, we might not have found her."

"She didn't look good. She was going up and down - struggling," said Jason Vandercook, who was also fishing on the boat.

Gracey's son said she was not injured and was released from the hospital after suffering from hypothermia.

Deputies said there were two chocolate labs with the couple and one of the dogs, Josie, was seen along the shore after the incident but wouldn't allow anyone near her.

Crews tried to get Josie off the sand bar Thursday morning without success. The dog eventually swam back to shore and ran off but was later found unharmed.

The family continues to look for the second lab, Ruby. Family friends distributed a photograph of the dog in the hope that someone will recognize her. She was last seen on the sandbar just before her owner drowned. If found, contact the Clackamas County Sheriff's Office.

The dive team from the Clackamas Water Rescue Consortium used sonar as well as their divers in the search.

Other area agencies also joined the search. The Gladstone Police Department said they are investigating the incident as an accidental death.