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Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Two possible Cedar River drownings remain unresolved
Two people who went missing in the Cedar River this summer have yet to be found, despite continued search efforts.
Erik Spaw, 54, went missing during the night between May 6 and May 7. He is a Cedar Rapids Water Division Employee, and his fleet truck was found May 7 submerged in the Cedar River near Ellis Road with no one inside.
A couple of months later, on July 13, an 11-year-old girl, Zyah Thomas, was seen going into the river near Palisades-Kepler State Park. She also has not been found.
Spaw’s mother, Karen Spaw, told The Gazette that he has Type 1 diabetes and had been having trouble regulating his insulin intake, so he may have passed out from low blood sugar while driving along Ellis Road.
His family has been working to raise awareness and increase the chances that Spaw can be found. The Cedar Rapids Fire Department searched the river daily for the first couple of weeks after Spaw went missing, and has continued boat and shoreline searches throughout the summer.
In addition to the fire department searches, Spaw’s family also hired a search team from Minnesota, using funds from a GoFundMe account, to spend a day on the water. The family has looked into hiring additional teams, but has had difficulty finding anyone. Most river search teams only search for missing vehicles, according to Bronica Wilson, Spaw’s sister-in-law.
The family has also spent time handing out flyers and putting up large posters along the river, hoping that if anyone spots something, they’ll call the police department.
“We will check out any lead that comes our way,” Wilson said. “Nothing is a waste of time. We appreciate any help we can get. Erik’s family misses him greatly and I know that finding him will lighten the mental load.”
The search has been a difficult and confusing one, for the family as well as for the firefighters. If Spaw did drown in the river, his body should have surfaced a few days later due to decomposition, according to Fire Capt. Josh Jensen.
“This search has taken a toll on firefighters, since past searches like this have more often than not resulted in the location and recovery of victims like this,” the fire department said in an email.
Zyah Thomas was visiting the beach area near Palisades-Kepler State Park when she went into the water on July 13. The state park is within the jurisdiction of the Linn County Sheriff’s Office, which responded immediately, along with several local fire departments and other agencies.
The search continued daily for about a week, and members of the sheriff’s department’s tactical response team have continued to search occasionally throughout the summer, according to Chief Deputy Doug Riniker from the Sheriff’s Office.
Search crews have gone downriver several miles, all the way to Sutliff Township, Riniker said.
“The longer (the search) goes on, the further the body could go, sadly. She could also be still directly in the area and just caught up in some tree limbs and stuff underneath the water. It’s just hard to tell,” Riniker said.
Throughout the process, the sheriff’s office has stayed in contact with Thomas’s family, updating them on the search and providing services through a Foundation 2 mental health liaison who partners with the department.
“I talked to them every day that they were out there,” Riniker said. “I’d go over. I’d talk to them. I’d explain what we’re doing that day. I explained how long we’re ging to be on the water, tell them that we’re going to come back tomorrow.”
Riniker said he was hopeful that Thomas would have been found by now, either by search teams or by civilians out on the river. He said in most cases like this that he’s experienced, the person is usually found within the first few days of searching, but that can depend on a lot of factors, including where the person went into the river.
“We want to provide the family closure. That is our overall goal,” Riniker said.
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