Runaway teen hops in Yampa River to avoid police
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — A chase to catch a runaway teenager in Steamboat Springs on Monday morning ended after the teen jumped in the Yampa River in an attempt to escape police.
Due to his age and certain mental health issues, police did not release the teen’s name.
Two officers made contact with a 17-year-old male and requested his name and information. While investigating his identity, officers discovered the young man’s parents had reported him missing about two months ago from California.
Officers asked the teen to return with them to the Police Department.
“Then he took off,” said Sgt. Rich Brown.
A chase ensued. The teen ran toward Fifth and Yampa streets where he surprised officers by jumping into the Yampa River.
Owing to the snowmelt and heavy moisture the area has received, the water temperature was only about 45 degrees Monday morning, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. It was also flowing at about 3,000 cubic feet per second, which is almost double the median discharge for this time of compared to the past 109 years.
“He realized it was running a lot faster than he thought, and it was a lot colder than he thought,” Brown said.
It did not take long for the teen to swim his way back toward the shore, where an officer helped to pull him out of the water.
Police were concerned the young man could become hypothermic, so he was taken to the UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center to receive treatment. Officers also contacted the Department of Human Services to alert the teen’s family of his location.
According to Brown, a family friend who lives in Colorado eventually picked up the 17-year-old to reunite him with his parents.
Brown was not sure why the teen had run away from home, but said it is not uncommon for police to encounter runaways.
Perhaps more than anything, this particular incident underscores the dangers of entering the Yampa River unprepared this time of year.
Cmdr. Annette Dopplick said the teen’s actions jeopardized both his safety and that of Steamboat Police officers.
“It’s unfortunate that he acted spontaneously in a moment that put his life in jeopardy,” she said. “Those officers risked their lives to help him.”
River safety has been a concern in Steamboat as the water has been at or near peak flows. Emergency responders conducted three river rescues last week, all of which ended with no injuries.
Water temperatures have fluctuated between 42 to 50 degrees in the past week, which is cold enough to induce hypothermia and cause total loss of breathing control without proper clothing, such as a wetsuit or drysuit, according to the National Center for Cold Water Safety.
Resource Conservation Service reports snowpack in the mountains that feed the Yampa River is 472% of the average as of June 18. That means the water will continue to be cold and swift.