Charles Greenwalt, a 30-year-old visitor from Selma, Oregon, is recovering from hypothermia following an intense eight-hour battle for survival after his vehicle plunged into the Dezedeash River near Haines Junction last Friday night.
By Saturday morning, the accident had claimed the life of the car’s other passenger, Vines Smith-Geddes, 72, a former Teslin resident and Greenwalt’s stepfather.
Investigating officers believe that at around 11 p.m., the vehicle, containing both Greenwalt and Smith-Geddes was started and put into ‘drive,’ rather than ‘reverse,’ causing it to catch the edge of a nearby boat launch and accelerate directly into the river.
The vehicle floated downriver for almost 64 metres before coming to rest in a shallow area on the side of the river opposite the town. Greenwalt immediately exited the vehicle, kicked in a window and pulled Smith-Geddes out.
“The father exited the vehicle, but he never made it to shore. He was dragged close to shore, but then the young fellow lost him, he couldn’t hold onto him,” said Cpl. Kim MacKellar of the Haines Junction RCMP.
Hunters located Greenwalt at 8 a.m. the next morning after he had spent eight hours in near-freezing temperatures.
He was immediately rushed to Whitehorse General Hospital and treated for hypothermia and a fractured foot caused by kicking in the vehicle window. He has been released and is in good condition.
Smith-Geddes’ body was later found roughly 64 metres from the vehicle. A police and coroner investigation is ongoing to determine at what time Smith-Geddes died during the night.
After speaking with members of the community, the RCMP believe that alcohol may have been a factor in the accident.
Family or friends of Smith-Geddes are being asked to immediately call Judy Gingell, a representative for the family, at (867) 334-4553.