Town of Bluffton Warns Against Wabash River

By Rachel Martin

August 23, 2011 Updated Aug 23, 2011 at 6:49 PM EDT

BLUFFTON, Ind. (Indiana’s NewsCenter) – Three people have died while trying to save the lives of others in the Wabash River in Bluffton. The Mayor said Tuesday that precautions need to be taken while around the river.

Matthew Zoll, 36, of Bluffton died August 18 while saving his fiancée’s son from drowning in the Wabash River. He was pulled under water and trapped by a strong undercurrent. His funeral was Tuesday at the Thoma/Rich, Chaney and Lemler Funeral Home in Bluffton.

“I just feel that something needs to be done,” said Janice Carey.

Janice Carey of Fort Wayne lost her grandson, Christopher Mohan, 16, in July 2010. He drowned in the Wabash River with another boy, Huntre Nelson, 6, while trying to save a little girl from drowning. They both also got trapped by a strong undercurrent in the same spot as Zoll.

“We feel like that if there had been warning of the dangers in that area, I know it was an accident, but we feel like now that it’s over that there needs to be something posted or that hole needs to be filled in,” Carey said.

That hole is where the undercurrent can be found, along the Wabash River just past White’s Bridge on C.R. 450 E and River Road. The River Greenway runs along that road and into Ouabache State Park. Along the edge of the river is an area that looks shallow and peaceful, but in reality there is a drop-off that is estimated to be 25 to 40 feet deep.

Bluffton Mayor Ted Ellis said between the deaths and his office being flooded with phone calls, he agrees that something must be done. In response, he wrote a letter to the Indiana Department of Natural Resources requesting that warning signs be posted. Mayor Ellis said many ideas have been proposed about how to fix the hole, but for now posting signs is the least he can do for the community. He is considering starting an awareness campaign also.

“I think an awareness campaign to just remind people that the river looks smooth on top, but it also churns underneath, there are under toes, there are holes all up and down the river that you can’t see when you’re just wading. And, I think making the public aware that the river is a dangerous place is probably a prudent thing to do.”

Carey was relieved to hear about Mayor Ellis’ actions.

“I think that’s a step in the right direction. I’m happy to hear that.”

Despite the accidents, people are still participating in activities along the river. But, both Carey and Mayor Ellis still pose some warnings.

“If you want to wade, go to our swimming pool. If you want to get by the river, if you want to come out and play and have some fun around the river, be aware that all is not as it seems,” Mayor Ellis said.

“Please don’t get in the water. And if you’re in a boat, a canoe, or kayak or something of that sort, please wear a safety vest and be very careful. You don’t understand the hurt and the loss…it’s just devastating” Carey said.

Mayor Ellis sent out the letter Monday night and is waiting for a response.

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