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Funeral arrangements made for man who died in kayaking accident

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CEDAR RAPIDS — Funeral arrangements have been made for the kayaker who went missing earlier this month in Indian Creek when his kayak overturned.

John Conley, 34, and his wife, Samantha Conley, 30, were kayaking on Indian Creek on Sept. 3 when the kayak got caught on a large pile of debris and overturned. Authorities said the wife was able to climb onto the debris, but John Conley was not.

His body was recovered on Sept. 6. An autopsy was performed Monday, according to the Linn County Medical Examiner’s Office. Preliminary results are pending.

The funeral has been scheduled for Sept. 24, beginning with a gathering of family and friends at 3 p.m. and a celebration of life service at 6 p.m. The service will be held at Squaw Creek Park’s Prairie Oak Lodge, 4021 Big Bluestream Drive, in Marion.

Conley is survived by his wife, three young children, his mother and three sisters. In lieu of flowers, the funeral notice asks that memorials be directed to his family.

Officials said the couple went into the water about three-quarters of a mile upstream from the bridge on Rosedale Road SE. Because of heavy rain in the days before, officials said the swollen creek waters were treacherous with swift currents and minefields of debris.

Cedar Rapids Fire Battalion Chief Brian Gibson said the couple’s kayak hit a large pile of debris that he a called strainer, “because it strains everything off the top of the water and creates an undertow that pulls anything on top of the water under.”

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“It just wasn’t a good situation,” Gibson said. “They were victims of circumstance. The kayak got caught by a current they couldn’t paddle out of or navigate away from it, and there was nothing they could do to stop it.”

Gibson said it was likely the current pushed the kayak into the strainer, causing it to overturn. As the vessel overturned, Gibson said Samantha Conley got thrown on top of the strainer while John Conley got caught in the undertow, making it impossible for him to escape the swift currents.

Cedar Rapids Public Safety Spokesperson Greg Buelow said the incident occurred around 4:15 p.m. Witnesses reported hearing Samantha Conley calling for help, and first responders were dispatched to the 1800 block of Timber Wolf Trail SE at 4:28 p.m.

Buelow said Samantha Conley was wearing a life jacket when the kayak flipped, but John Conley had taken his off shortly before the accident.

Samantha Conley was rescued at 5:04 p.m. and taken to Mercy Medical Center where she was treated for injuries that weren’t life-threatening and released.

For days, rescue personnel butted heads with the creek’s flooded conditions while searching for Conley’s remains, using boats, K-9s, drones and on-the-ground searchers. The swollen creek, swift currents and heavy debris made searching by boat dangerous for emergency personnel and limited the areas they were able to search. And with the creek waters extending beyond the banks, foot searches were unable to get close enough to the creek bed to conduct thorough searches.

Three days later, Conley’s body was pulled from the creek, about a third- to half-mile downstream from where the kayak overturned, Gibson said.

A Cedar Rapids native, Conley is remembered as a sincere and driven man who started his own business and loved outdoor activities, especially bow hunting, fishing, boating and archery.

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“John was an ambitious, honest, hardworking, selfless, well-respected and well-liked man,” according to this obituary. “He was a man of few words, always on the go, and was down for anything his family and friends asked him to join in on, especially if it included Busch Light. He sincerely valued his beloved family. John was a man to be proud of, a wonderful and cherished husband and father, and will be missed by all who knew and loved him.”

In the wake of his death, a family member set up the John Conley Memorial Fund to help his family. As of 4 p.m. Friday, the fund had raised More than $23,800 of its $50,000 goal. Donations can be made directly to the fund at any University of Iowa Credit Union location.

l Comments: (319) 398-8238; kat.russell@thegazette.com

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