By Ryan J. Foley
CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (AP) – Searchers recovered the body of a teenager who was swept into a storm drain in Cedar Rapids by fast-moving flood waters, a tragic end to an intense daylong search, authorities said Tuesday.
Firefighters searching by boat found the body of 17-year-old Logan Blake in Cedar Lake near downtown Cedar Rapids. The body was in 3 feet of water, about 75 yards from where he came out of a pipe after traveling more than a mile through the storm sewer system.
Blake was with friends Monday evening on the grounds of an elementary school when he was pulled into the open drain by water that flooded the neighborhood as a result of torrential rains that overwhelmed the sewer system. The three were planning to play Frisbee after an intense rain and wind storm when Blake may have fallen into a culvert that was obscured by the high waters.
His 17-year-old friend, David Bliss, went in the culvert to try to save Blake, but he was also dragged into the drain. Bliss traveled in the drain for more than one mile before emerging in Cedar Lake. He was shocked but able to walk to a hospital, where he was treated for non-life-threatening injuries and released. The third friend flagged down a vehicle to call 911.
Firefighters, police officers, city workers and volunteers searched the sewer system and lake for Blake on Monday night and all day Tuesday, before the discovery of his body at about 4 p.m. The body is being taken to a local hospital and the state medical examiner will determine the cause of death.
Jim Coyle, who was Blake’s pastor and is a chaplain for Cedar Rapids fire and police, said the teen’s parents are mourning the loss of “an incredible son” who was going to be a senior at Washington High School. He said Blake was a “very strong, very active kid” with many friends, a steady girlfriend and a strong devotion to family.
“The family is so grateful for all of the volunteers that have come here and poured their life and their heart and their passion in trying to see a better result,” Coyle told reporters.
Coyle said he planned to provide counseling to Bliss in the days ahead, saying he “did a heroic thing” by trying to save Blake. He said it’s impossible to know why one boy survived the turbulent ride through the storm sewer while another didn’t.
“You have a young man that is going to live the rest of his life knowing that he attempted to save his best friend and was unsuccessful,” he said.
The storm drain feeds into an underground concrete pipe about 4 1/2 feet wide at the school’s culvert entrance. That pipe runs about a mile and a half southwest and is 10 feet in diameter where it empties into Cedar Lake.
One expert questioned whether the culvert complied with safety criteria recommended for the industry, and said the teen’s disappearance was part of a national problem.
Any inlet that is wider than 48 inches or long enough that one cannot see daylight at the end should generally have a safety grate, said Ken MacKenzie, a committee chair for the National Association of Flood & Stormwater Management Agencies.
“If there was a 54-inch diameter pipe next to an elementary school without a safety grate on the inlet, that was a dangerous situation that could have been prevented.” he said.
Craig Hanson, director of the Cedar Rapids public works department, said the drain had been there for decades without a problem. He said, to the city’s knowledge, it’s never had a grate, in part because of fears that it could get clogged and flood the neighborhood. The city will review the safety of its system, he said.
Coyle brushed off those concerns, saying the teenager was the victim of a tragedy.
“What took place was a rushing flood of water,” he said. “It takes you swiftly and without any control. That’s what happened.”