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Iowa flooding 911 call: 'A boy went in the sewer'

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By RYAN J. FOLEY
Associated Press

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (AP) - A passing motorist tells authorities a "boy went in the sewer" and "his mother is yelling for him" during a 911 call that prompted a frantic search for two Iowa teenagers swept into an open storm drain during a flash flood. One died and the other survived.

The female driver made the June 30 call, obtained by The Associated Press under the public records law, after being stopped by a friend of 17-year-old Logan Blake of Cedar Rapids, whose body was found in a lake the next day.

"People have flagged me down and said a boy went in the sewer," the driver says. "A boy went in the sewer?" the dispatcher repeats, sounding surprised. "Yes," the driver affirms.

Authorities say both boys were in the city's storm sewer system by then. They say Blake was swept into a 54-inch open storm drain while playing Frisbee behind an elementary school, and 17-year-old David Bliss went in the drain to try to save his friend and was also swept in. A third friend, 16-year-old Jacob Spurrell, ran to tell Blake's mother at her nearby home that her son had vanished. He then had the driver call 911.

Noting the mother yelling in the background, the driver says, "I'm sitting in my car and they are outside the car trying to find this young boy."

When the dispatcher asked the driver whether she was sure the boy went in the sewer, she responded, "One of the people here said they watched him go in, they told him it was a bad idea, and he went anyway." It's unclear whether this comment was referring to Blake or to Bliss, who survived.

City spokesman Greg Buelow said the motorist did a great job relaying information to 911 about the incident, but that she may have been confused about what she was being told in a chaotic situation. Firefighters were sent to the scene, sparking an extensive 21-hour rescue operation that included searching Cedar Lake by boat and under manhole covers along the storm sewer route.

Firefighters found Blake's body in Cedar Lake, near where he would have exited the sewer and roughly 1½ miles from where he went in. Bliss came out in Cedar Lake after traveling through the dark pipes filled with water, but was able to walk to a nearby hospital relatively unscathed. With an estimated 67,000 gallons of water rushing through the system, it probably took Bliss about 10 minutes to travel through, Buelow said.

A second 911 call, about 45 minutes after the first, reveals that a man called police to report that a shoe was leaned up against a bridge near Cedar Lake. The caller said he was out walking on a trail and wondered whether the shoe was connected to the search for a missing person.

Buelow said searchers soon determined that the shoe belonged to Blake, but they were still hopeful he would be found alive. He said Bliss had lost most of his clothes due to the force of the water.

The Linn County Medical Examiner, which handled Blake's autopsy, has not released a cause and manner of death.

Blake's death prompted a petition calling for the city to install grates on all of its storm drains to prevent future tragedies. A city official has said the drain didn't have a grate for decades, noting that could get clogged and then flood the neighborhood.

A spokesman for Blake's family, Pastor Jim Coyle, didn't return a message Thursday. He told reporters July 1 that there were no "issues or concerns" with the city's storm sewers.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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