Cedar City dad drowns saving son

Thursday , March 06, 2014 - 12:17 PM


JUNCTION -- A Cedar City man drowned while saving the life of his son, who had jumped in a reservoir to retrieve his mother’s hat.

Jeremy William Gunter, 35, his wife Leha, and four children were camping with relatives at Otter Creek Reservoir in south-central Utah on Wednesday.

Around 4 p.m., the family went out on the water in a fishing boat, said Deputy Matt Whittaker with the Piute County Sheriff’s Office on Thursday.

It was a windy day, and when a gust picked up his mother’s hat and dropped it in the water, the 12-year-old boy jumped in after it.

“He just jumped up and jumped in,” Whittaker said. “She told him not to because it wasn’t that big of deal, but he wanted to do it, so he got up and jumped in.”

It was a warm day, but the water was relatively cold, and the wind was churning the water high enough that whitecaps were breaking on the waves, Whittaker said.

Even for an experienced swimmer, he said, the conditions would have been difficult.

“With the water temperature being as cold as it was, it doesn’t take long for hypothermia to set in,” the deputy said. “It was a warm day, but once you get into the water, then your body temperature starts to really plummet.”

Within minutes, the boy was struggling in the water and his father jumped in to help.

Neither was wearing a life vest, and soon both were in trouble, Whittaker said.

Gunter was able to propel his son back toward the boat, where the boy’s mother and siblings pulled him back in.

But Gunter went under and never resurfaced, Whittaker said.

Piute County Sheriff Marty Gleave said there was another fisherman out in the water in the area, but he was not close enough to help the family.

The family struggled to get their boat’s motor started and began rowing their boat back to shore, which was about 50 yards away.

They called back to Leha Gunter’s parents, who were still on shore, and asked them to get help.

Bob Hanover, the manager of Otter Creek State Park, said the area has no cellphone service, so someone on shore drove to a nearby marina to call for help while another person drove to find a park ranger.

Dive and rescue teams from four counties — Sanpete, Sevier, Piute, and Washington — descended on the reservoir to search for Gunter.Around 8:20p.m., rescuers recovered Gunter’s body

The deepest parts of the reservoir are between 40 and 50 feet deep, Hanover said, but Gunter’s body was found in an area about 17 feet deep.

Gleave said Thursday that Gunter was “heroic” to sacrificing his life to save his son.

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