Champaign County sheriff on Mad River fatality: ‘When it’s a kid, it takes a toll’

The family of a 1-year-old baby who died in the Mad River Tuesday afternoon was on trip with Birch Bark Livery in Champaign County when their canoes capsized, a family member involved in the accident said.

The infant, identified as Miya Ye of Bellefontaine in an incident report from the Champaign County Sheriff’s Office, was with family in two canoes and a kayak, according to her uncle, Jamie Ye.

There were eight people total in the water crafts and seven had on life jackets, including Miya, Jamie Ye said. He said he was the only one not wearing a life jacket.

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The Champaign County Sheriff’s Office has said there were seven people on the water crafts.

It is unclear why there is a discrepancy in the number of people in the group.

According to the incident report, four adult life jackets and three canoes were found on scene. There was no mention of a child’s size life jacket.

Jamie Ye said an employee at Birch Bark told him and his family to look for the the signage and concrete pillars on Ohio 55 for the river’s exit, but he did not see them.

“Birch Bark Canoe Livery state Route 55 take out. All trips end here,” read a sign hanging from the bridge Wednesday.

After the family missed the exit, a woman called 9-1-1 at about 2:15 p.m. telling dispatchers a baby had fallen into the water.

The family had hit a strainer and overturned their canoes, German Twp. Fire/EMS Chief Tim Holman said.

Holman said the victims were “freelancing,” or going off course, because that part of the Mad River where the strainer, or a tree under the water and out of sight sits, is too dangerous for canoes, flotation devices and rescuers.

The survivors were able to make their way to a small island, approximately a half-mile south of Ohio 55, where they were rescued, Holman said. Two people suffered minor injuries, all seven victims were taken to Mercy Memorial Hospital in Urbana.

Rescuers located Miya in a debris-filled area just after 5 p.m. and began CPR, which continued as they rushed her to a waiting ambulance.

Life-saving measures continued at Mercy Hospital, but were unsuccessful.

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“When it’s a kid, it takes a toll on everybody,” Holman said. “We live with that on a daily basis.”

The incident was the fourth water rescue call in three weeks for that area of the river, he said.

“The water is deep there and the current is fast,” Holman said.

Ohio Department of Natural Resources Lt. Travis Martin said the agency is considering adding additional enforcement on the waterway due to the large number of incidents near the area.

Cliff Fawcett of Massie Creek Paddlers, a local group that promotes paddle sports and paddle safety, said strainers like the one the Ye family hit can be dangerous even for experienced paddlers.

“Typically it’s a tree, but it can be anything that’s in the river that the river is flowing through, over, under,” Fawcett said. “And it’s just like a strainer you would use when you make spaghetti. If you pour the spaghetti in the thing the water goes through and the stuff stays out.”

Fawcett also said the stretch of the river where the family was boating is challenging because of how narrow it is. There’s less room for people to avoid debris like trees in the river even if they can see it coming.

Martin said that any river system will have some strainers.

“With any river system you are going to have some strainers. It’s pretty common - especially when you have a lot of rain like we have,” Martin said. “We ask the public to be conscious of this and always wear a life jacket.”

Martin said it’s important to remember that by Ohio law, all children under the age of 10 are required to wear a life jacket on a waterway.

“We have a lot more beautiful weather coming and more summer left,” Martin said. “We are going to see a high number of people in our state parks, we ask that they all take the necessary steps to stay safe.”

There were 18 fatalities on Ohio waterways last year, the second highest in the last four years, according to ODNR.

The sheriff’s office and the county coroner’s office are continuing their investigation of this incident.

1: Age of infant who died after falling into the Mad River

4th: Water rescue in three weeks at the same location on the Mad River

18: Fatalities on Ohio waterways last year

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