Search for body of man who jumped into Little Arkansas is called off

Authorities search the Little Arkansas River just west of the Nims Street Bridge for a person who fled from police Thursday night.
Authorities search the Little Arkansas River just west of the Nims Street Bridge for a person who fled from police Thursday night. The Wichita Eagle

Fire rescue crews on Friday afternoon stopped searching for the body of a 38-year-old man who jumped into the Little Arkansas River after he failed a field sobriety test Thursday night, officials said.

The crews continued to search, without finding a body, until about 3 p.m. Friday. They ended the work because of Wichita River Festival activities, said Wichita Deputy Fire Chief Tammy Snow.

The firefighters searched along the shoreline using boats, water craft, drag hooks and sonar equipment, Snow said.

An increased current, caused by rain run-off, presented a challenge for the water rescue team, Snow said.

A one point Friday, the team was searching the area near the Murdock Street dam.

Officials are still discussing when the search might resume, Snow said.

As of late Friday afternoon, authorities were still not releasing the man’s name.

Authorities said they have given up any hopes of finding the man alive after he jumped into the river Thursday night. He had refused numerous commands to come to the banks of the river, which was flowing rapidly because of heavy rains earlier Thursday, police Lt. Doug Nolte said.

“He was probably in the water for a good 10 to 15 minutes,” Nolte said. “He was struggling to swim.”

The officer called for a water rescue team and tried to convince the man to grab a log floating near him, but he refused and went under. A search lasting more than two hours proved fruitless before supervisors called it off for the night.

The search resumed shortly after daylight Friday morning, Nolte said. Given how long he has been in the water, Nolte said earlier Friday, any search is now considered a recovery mission rather than a rescue mission.

The man drove out of the QuikTrip parking lot at Broadway and Murdock without headlights on at about 9:45 p.m. Thursday, Nolte said. An officer noticed the infraction and began following him in an attempt to stop him.

While catching up to the car, the officer became suspicious that the driver was intoxicated. He pulled the car over in the 400 block of West Central and conducted a sobriety test. The driver failed the test, but as the officer was in the process of arresting him, the suspect “squirmed away” and ran toward two apartment complexes along the river.

“He got away,” Nolte said, because the officer was following protocol and proceeding cautiously around the various apartment buildings.

But the officer noticed the man in the river a short time later.

This is the third time in two months that a man has drowned or presumed to have drowned by attempting to elude law enforcement by jumping into a pond or the river, Nolte said.

“It’s dangerous,” he said.

The officer did not go into the water to try to rescue the man, because “we simply aren’t trained to do water rescues,” Nolte said. “He followed our procedures” by calling for boats and a water rescue team.

Related stories from Wichita Eagle