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Police Chief Says Caution Vital Near Banks Of River

INDEPENDENCE -- Authorities are urging people who frequent Riverview Park to use caution when near the shore of the Willamette River, which is flowing high and fast.

INDEPENDENCE -- Authorities are urging people who frequent Riverview Park to use caution when near the shore of the Willamette River, which is flowing high and fast.

Independence Police Chief Vern Wells said it's unlikely, however, that new signs -- beyond what already exists -- or enforcement policies will be put into place following the drowning deaths of Michael Runyon and Alvin Troub on Nov. 16.

"The park is heavily used by people and it's normally safe," he said, noting long-term plans by the city is to build a trail along the river. "In the future we're going to have a lot more use on the banks."

This month's incident may have been made worse because Runyon, who relatives said was autistic, may not "have had the same fear of the water that others might have," he said.

"The younger brother we know couldn't swim, and the older brother, according to family members, wasn't a good swimmer," Wells continued.

And the combination of a strong current, cold temperatures -- it was 38 degrees on that fateful day -- and natural panic made survival nearly impossible, he said.

There have been three drowning deaths within Independence's segment of the river in the last 20 years, Wells said.

In the summer of 1988, a man died after trying to swim across the river in front of the park.

Seven years later, a Salem-area high school student drowned when he leapt into the water to escape from police after stealing beer from a nearby convenience store.

Wells also said there was a drowning death in the late 1990s or early 2000s, when a young boy drowned after riding his bike off the end of the boat dock.

--Craig Coleman

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