Mother & son rescued after being swept downstream the Applegate River

JOSEPHINE COUNTY, Ore. – Dwen Laughlin said she goes to the Applegate River all the time with her sons.

But this past Saturday, she found herself in a situation she never thought she’d be in.

“I’m a really strong swimmer and I‘ve been in the river many, many times,” Laughlin said. “And this was scary.”

Laughlin and her two kids live in Cave Junction.

They’ve swam the Applegate River, near the popular Turtle Lane Park, numerous times.

But this past Saturday, her 12-year old son, Orion, was in the shallow part of the river, moving toward a faster current and everything changed.

“He pushed out just a little bit too far, I mean a few feet,” Laughlin said. “And there was a weird current, an undercurrent that caught him, and pushed him into the fast water so fast it was in a blink of an eye.”

Laughlin swam after her son, but she too was swept away by the rushing water.

Several agencies responded to the potential drowning call, including Rural Metro lieutenant Ben Neff.

“She was in distress, obviously suffering from hypothermia, at this point, she’s been in the water, I would estimate, about 10 or 15 minutes before we even got there,” he said.

Laughlin found herself losing sight of her son.

“I clung to a branch actually,” she said. “And thankfully there was a couple of ladies that was across the river from me and I yelled for them to call 911.”

Rural Metro was able to rescue Laughlin and her son safely, not long after showing up.

It said the water temperature was in the 30s.

Though she’s no stranger to local rivers, Laughlin said she’s never seen the river move the way it was.

Neither she nor her son were wearing life jackets.

Now, she and Rural Metro want people to know it’s vital to put one on, no matter what.

“Even if you’re in shallow water, and you don’t think you need them, put your life jacket on,” Laughlin said.

“I think that’s the most imperative thing people can do,” Neff said. “Wear a life jacket and if you feel like you’ve been exposed to the cold water for too long, then you need to get out and you need to get warmed up.”

Rural Metro said Laughlin and her son were lucky to escape something like this alive.

They said most rivers in the area have higher flows and much stronger currents this year, compared to years past.

It’s resulted in at least one fatality this year and Rural Metro expects to see more water rescues as we head into summer.

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NBC5 News reporter Zachary Larsen grew up in Surprise, Arizona. He graduated from Arizona State University's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism. At ASU, Zack interned at Arizona Sports 98.7FM and Softball America. During his Junior year, Zack joined the ASU Sports Bureau. He covered the Fiesta Bowl, the Phoenix Open and major basketball tournaments. Zack enjoys working out, creative writing, music, and rooting for his ASU Sun Devils.
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