Missoula city and county emergency responders worked for five hours late Tuesday to pull a mid-size SUV from the Clark Fork River after an older man apparently drove into the water from the Taco John's parking lot on West Broadway.

Police and fire officials believe the car is submerged beneath the downstream railroad trestle, in the 600 block of West Broadway.

Responders brought in a crane, several boats and jet skis in an attempt to locate and then pull the vehicle from the river, before suspending that effort as darkness fell.

They were hindered in that effort by the Clark Fork's high flow and the depth of water at the trestle. Missoula police spokesperson Travis Welsh said crews will continue the recovery Wednesday morning, after first light.

Several witnesses told police that an older man driving a maroon, mid-size, older-model SUV drove into the Taco John's parking lot about 4:45 p.m., stopped by the entrance for a minute and then continued driving off the embankment – plunging into the murky water below.

Witnesses said the car immediately began floating downstream, bobbed up and down a few times, and was last seen near the railroad trestle, where it went nose first into the water.

Welsh said the driver was believed to be the sole occupant of the SUV. Witnesses described the man as 60 to 70 years of age, with white or gray hair wearing a baseball cap.

Responders found no sign of the man on the riverbank or in the water. His status is unknown, Welsh said.

He said search and rescue efforts were suspended because of low light and unsafe water conditions, but will resume in the morning.

Welsh asked anyone who witnessed the incident, or who has information leading to the identity of the driver, to contact Detective Chris Shermer at (406) 552-6296, or Detective Jamie Merifield at (406) 552-6291.

Reporter Kathryn Haake can be reached at 523-5268 or at kate.haake@missoulian.com.

(1) comment


So very sad. There really needs to be some sort of guard rail there. That's crazy!

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