On June 18, 2016, at approximately 5:30 p.m., the Bent County Sheriff’s Office received a 911 call of a male and female party needing assistance on John Martin Reservoir after being separated from their raft. The dispatcher was informed the female party was clinging to a tree in the water and that the male party was nowhere to be seen. The Bent County Sheriff’s Office immediately requested assistance from Hasty Ambulance Service, Hasty Fire Department, Bent County Ambulance Service, Colorado State Parks, Corps of Engineers, Bent County Emergency Manager (Rick Stwalley), Lamar Fire Department, Care Connect, Prowers County Sheriff’s Office, Las Animas Fire Department, and State Parks. They were advised of the situation and while en route to the scene, the stranded female party was able to be rescued by civilian watercraft. She was transported to the shore and was taken to PMC in Lamar for evaluation. Deputies arrived on the west boat ramp and requested the assistance of several civilian watercrafts to aid in the search for the stranded male party while the Corps of Engineers and State Parks were able to launch their watercrafts. As multiple agencies were searching on the water and land, Care Connect was flying overhead in search of the missing male. Rescue efforts were scaled back at approximately 11:30 p.m. and State Parks left a search boat on the water all night.
At approximately 6:00 a.m. on Sunday, June 19, 2016, the search resumed for the missing male party. During the evening hours, the family of both party assisted in the search by walking the shorelines of the lake. A dive team from Pueblo County Sheriff’s Office arrived on scene to assist in the search as well as State Parks, Corps of Engineers, and Bent County Reserve Deputy Gary Root, who flew his plane over the scene for almost an hour. The search crew had no luck in finding the male party on Sunday and the search was scaled back at approximately 5:00 p.m. with the State Parks leaving a boat on the water all evening.
On Monday, June 20th, 2016, around 7:00 a.m., the search began again with cadaver dogs being brought in by SARDOC out of Fairplay, Colorado. The dogs were able to mark a possible location of the victim’s body. The Colorado Springs Fire Dive Team arrived on scene, along with Hasty Ambulance, El Paso County Dog Team, State Parks, Corps of Engineers, and Prowers County Sheriff’s Office. A second boat went out with the El Paso County Dog Team to confirm the findings of the first dog team. The Colorado Springs Fire Dive Team was able to use sonar equipment to locate the body of the missing party. At approximately 11:30 a.m., the body was positively located and extracted from the water and turned over to the Bent County Coroner’s Office. The male party was identified as Harley Benson, age 23, of Las Animas. The surviving female party will remain unnamed at this time.
The Bent County Sheriff’s Office would like to thank all agencies and persons who assisted in the search endeavor at John Martin Reservoir and apologizes for any agencies or person(s) not recognized in this release. There were so many people who volunteered their time to assist in this emergency situation and we are very grateful. We would also like to thank the community who assisted in this tragic event and those who supplied the emergency personnel with food and water while on scene. The Bent County Sheriff’s Office also wants to give a big thank you to the efforts of Rick Stwalley, Bent County’s Emergency Manager, for his knowledge of emergency management and his fast actions in procuring surrounding agencies’ resources.
The Bent County Sheriff’s Office and surrounding agencies send our deepest condolences for the family’s loss.
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