Sheriff’s deputy drowns in Zephyr Cove harbor |

Sheriff’s deputy drowns in Zephyr Cove harbor

B.H. Bose

A Douglas County sheriff’s deputy drowned Sunday in Lake Tahoe when a dinghy he was riding in capsized in Zephyr Cove harbor.

Officer Ed Callahan, a retired customs agent and a Douglas County Sheriff’s Office Boat Patrol deputy, was pronounced dead at Barton Memorial Hospital shortly before 6 p.m.

Callahan, 54, was beginning his third summer as a Douglas County boat patrolman.

At approximately 5 p.m. the patrol boat was secured to a buoy and the Zephyr Cove dock master came out to pick up officers Callahan and Wes Rice, a reserve deputy sheriff. As the two of them stepped onto the dinghy, a large wave hit, causing the boat to turn over, witnesses reported. All three were thrown into the water. The dock master was able to climb onto the boat, and then helped Rice out of the water. Callahan, however, was not seen.

“They boarded a dinghy that transports personnel to and from the main boat and the dock. The dinghy then capsized,” said Sgt. Larry Paul shortly after the accident. “Two sheriff’s officers went into the water. One managed to swim back to the boat and stay above water, the other was not.”

Members of the El Dorado County Sheriff’s Boat Patrol, the Department of Wildlife, Tahoe-Douglas Fire Department and the U.S. Coast Guard responded to the scene. A complete search grid of the water was quickly initiated. Approximately 15 minutes later, members of the Tahoe-Douglas Fire Department located Callahan and pulled him up.

“We responded when we heard Marine Seven had capsized,” said Capt. Richard Nalder of the Tahoe-Douglas Fire Department. “One officer who went into the water wasn’t able to grab a life jacket and went down. We went in, hooked him and managed to pull him out.”

According to Nalder, Callahan was found on the lake bottom, approximately 10 feet beneath the surface. When they brought him to the pier, he was unconscious with no pulse. Medical aid and CPR were quickly administered, but on-scene crews, and later doctors at Barton Memorial, were unable to revive him.

Callahan was reportedly submerged for 15 minutes before he was located and brought to the surface, said Douglas County Sheriff Ron Pierini, in a press conference held later in the evening. He added that because of Sunday’s high winds and the timing of the wave that hit their dinghy, the officers were caught without life jackets.

“We have all the proper equipment on board. Officers take the life jackets off and leave them on the main boat, then board the dinghy, where there are other life jackets to put on for the ride to the pier,” he said. “In fact, there were four life jackets on the dinghy. It just happened so fast.”

With water so cold, Pierini added, it doesn’t take long for hypothermia to set in.

“When water gets that cold, it completely slows down the whole body. It was just so very unfortunate,” he said. “I don’t remember anything like this ever happening at Lake Tahoe. We’ve lost a lot of civilians before. I think six years ago we lost a whole family. Lake Tahoe takes a lot of lives over the years. This is just very traumatic.”

Rice, who was also taken to Barton Memorial in South Lake Tahoe, was treated and released for hypothermia.

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