{child_flags:urgent}{child_flags:top_story}{child_flags:popular}{child_flags:featured}{child_flags:enterprise}{child_flags:centerpiece}{child_flags:alert}{child_flags:watchdog}Holiday Tragedy

{child_byline}By STEPHEN LEE

The search continued Monday for Lee Weber, the Hughes County Sheriff’s Chief Deputy presumed drowned after he jumped in the Missouri River north of Fort Pierre on Friday to save his 8-year-old son, said Weber’s counterpart, Stanley County Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Greg Swanson on Monday afternoon from his office in Fort Pierre.

Officials said Weber has been missing since Friday afternoon, July 3, when he leaped in after his 8-year-old son had fallen in from a moving boat.

Weber, 37, has been with the Hughes County Sheriff’s Department in Pierre since 2015 and earlier had served tours of duty with the South Dakota Army National Guard in Iraq and Afghanistan.

It happened about 2:51 p.m., Friday, July 3, about 3.5 miles northwest of the Waldron Bridge between Fort Pierre and Pierre, or a little more than a mile downstream from Oahe Dam, according to Swanson.

“The child was saved by a nearby boat. Mr. Weber, who was not wearing a life jacket, was swept away by the river’s current,” according to the news release Sunday from the Stanley County Sheriff’s Office.

“The search is still on,” Swanson said Monday.

It has included emergency professionals from about 18 local, state and federal agencies as well as a host of volunteers who have been walking the shores of the Missouri River downstream as well as around LaFramboise Island between Pierre and Fort Pierre, Swanson said.

Weber’s family members on Monday continued to be part of the search on “diver’s point,” near where he went in the water on Friday and in boats on the river.

Weber went into the water just off the northeast side of “diver’s point” at the end of the small peninsula jutting out toward the river’s east shore from the lower, southern point of the Oahe Downstream State Recreation Area, Swanson said.

Weber was not wearing a life jacket and apparently got taken by the current.

“It’s pretty deep right there,” Swanson said.

Swanson said Weber most likely was intentional about not wearing a life jacket when he jumped in to save his son.

“When you are trying to rescue somebody, if you are using a life jacket you can’t get under the water to grab them. So you’d go in without a life jacket. I would do that. If someone goes under and you are wearing a life jacket, how can you go under the surface and bring them up?”

Weber’s son was spotted floating in the river by people in another boat and pulled to safety, Swanson said.

“This is a sad moment for his family and all of us who knew Lee,” Hughes County Sheriff Darin Johnson said Sunday in the news release. “But we are not surprised that he would risk his life to help someone else, especially a family member. Lee protected others while serving in Iraq and Afghanistan and he did here as well. We will remember him for his unselfishness and bravery.”

Weber went to Riggs High School in Pierre and was sworn in as a deputy in Hughes County in 2015.

Between those times, he served tours of duty in the war on terror in Iraq in 2004-2005 and in Afghanistan 2009-2010 with the Army National Guard’s 153rd Engineer Battalion. Their job was finding and blowing up roadside explosives to protect allied troops, he told the Capital Journal in 2015.

Weber also served as deputy emergency manager for Hughes and Stanley counties in 2019.

It was a very busy Fourth of July weekend and the campgrounds around the area were filled and there were a lot of boats on the river, searchers said.

On Monday, it was relatively quiet, with only one or two boats passing by diver’s point during one hour-long period during the search.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reduced the flow of water through Oahe Dam through the weekend to aid the search, Swanson said.

The water became so low that much of the bottom was visible over the weekend on the leeward side of the diver’s point peninsula where a lagoon is formed with another part of the Recreation Area triangle of land that sort of splits the river just below the dam, searchers said on Monday. By Monday afternoon, the water level on the river was back up to its earlier level as the Army Corps increased the flows again from the dam, which has demands on its production of hydroelectricity.

From a computer monitor set on the back of a pickup truck tailgate, Capt. Derald Gross of the Pierre Police Department operated the camera-carrying drone bought last year under the auspices of Rob Fines, emergency manager for Hughes and Stanley counties.

On Monday afternoon, Gross sent the drone up to patrol along the east shore of the river a few hundred yards from diver’s point.

Meanwhile, a searcher alone in a boat ran a regular grid pattern on the south, downstream side of the diver’s point peninsula, using scanning sonar to view below the surface.

A fixed-wing airplane from the South Dakota Highway Patrol, meanwhile, flew back and forth across the river from several hundred yards in the air.

Fines paced the point, using binoculars, while Weber’s family members talked to searchers in boats who were checking on possibilities reported from the aircraft and drone.

Late in the afternoon Monday, a quick moving rain storm from the northwest halted the searching for a time.

The Pierre-based Dive Team, with trained volunteer members from several agencies in the region and coordinated by the Pierre Volunteer Fire Department, has been searching as far south as the mouth of the Bad River in Fort Pierre, south of the Waldron Bridge, Swanson said.

On Monday, Pierre Fire Chief Ian Paul said he was out with the dive team on the river, searching again.

The extensive four-day search since Friday also has included cadaver dogs and people in boats and on foot searching the shorelines and walking around islands, Swanson said.

“It’s sad time for law enforcement when you lose one of your own,” Swanson said. “Everything that can be done is being done. Sometimes you just have to let Mother Nature take its course.”

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