Minivan winds up in river at boat launch

La Center couple’s plans to fish on Columbia end up all wet after mishap; no one injured

By John Branton, Columbian Staff Reporter

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Teresa Sharp was looking forward to fishing with her husband, Robert, as she drove their minivan and 12-foot aluminum boat to the Marine Park Boat Launch along the Columbia River around noon Tuesday.

“I just had an extra vacation day, so my husband and I were going to fish and spend some time together,” the La Center resident said.

As it turned out, they caught no fish. And they did spend about three hours together — but it wasn’t super-fun.

As Teresa backed the van’s boat and its trailer into the water, she went a little too far. With the van’s hatchback door open, the river filled it up with water and sucked it away from the boat launch.

“All of a sudden he’s going, ‘Stop! Stop! Stop!’ and I’m saying, ‘I can’t! I can’t!’ and all of a sudden, I was chest-high in water,” she said.

As the river began claiming the van, she’d tried hitting the gas, which didn’t work.

The water filled the van as she sat in the seat. The driver’s door was open, so she climbed out into four or five feet of water and walked back up the ramp looking back at the blue 2002 Chrysler Town and Country.

“It was completely submerged,” Teresa Sharp said. “All I could see was the antenna sticking up.”

Before the accident, Robert Sharp had been standing in shallow water, ready to unhook the boat from its trailer. He was ready to launch and was holding the bowline of their outboard motor boat, which their kids call “The Tin Man.”

“Next thing I know, the car bumped me from behind,” he said. “It just kept coming. I yelled ‘Stop!’ many times. I got out of the way.”

As the couple watched from the ramp, the minivan was pulled farther into the river, became submerged, then stopped.

Boats from the U.S. Coast Guard, Multnomah County Sheriff’s Marine Patrol and Clark County Sheriff’s Marine Patrol came to the ramp, but there wasn’t much they could do with a submerged minivan.

The Sharps called for roadside assistance, and a tow truck arrived, but its driver said they’d need a larger truck with a more powerful winch.

And when the big truck arrived, its driver was ready to take action.

“He had a little dive mask, and he was going to jump in the water and hook it up himself,” the husband said.

But his supervisor vetoed that idea.

About 2:30 p.m., a diver with the Multnomah County Marine Patrol arrived. Wearing full scuba gear, the diver went in the water and tried unsuccessfully to attach a cable. He returned to the ramp, took a chain and hooked it to the minivan.

As the large tow truck winched their van back to the ramp, the Sharps were still stunned by what had happened.

“One minute, I’m getting the boat in the water; and the next minute, I’m sitting in water,” the wife said. “It’s not what you would expect.”

She added, “I was kind of shocked when it first happened. It took me a minute to figure out what happened.”

“I’m still in shock,” Robert Sharp said. “I had never seen anything like this. It makes you feel completely helpless.”

In the end, around 3 p.m., no one was hurt and the tow truck took the van back to its yard.

The Sharps said they have full insurance coverage. Robert Sharp suspects the insurance company will declare it totalled.

John Branton: 360-735-4513 or john.branton@columbian.com.