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Woman found dead in Hominy Creek near Clark Lane

Sunday, September 14, 2008 | 12:05 p.m. CDT; updated 9:37 p.m. CDT, Monday, September 15, 2008
Rescue workers carry the body of 20-year-old Michelle Runkle from Hominy Creek near Clark Lane on Sunday evening. Runkle's body was found downstream of where she was swept away in floodwaters early Sunday morning.

COLUMBIA — Rescue crews found the body of 20-year-old Michelle Runkle downstream from Clark Lane at Hominy Creek, where she was swept away in floodwaters early Sunday morning.

Rescue crews searched for Runkle, who lived and worked in Columbia, for more than 16 hours on Sunday.

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At about 5:30 p.m. Sunday, two Missouri State Water Patrol officers found her body entangled in brush on the west side of the creek about a quarter of a mile downstream from where she entered Hominy Creek, said Battalion Chief Steven Sapp of the Columbia Fire Department. Runkle's body was then taken to the Boone County Medical Examiner's office.

Around 2:53 a.m., Devan Arends, 21, of Sturgeon, was driving Runkle home in a pickup truck heading east on Clark Lane from Route PP when the two noticed Chris Crocker, 23, hanging onto a golf cart bridge, Sapp said. They got out of the vehicle to assist Crocker, and Arends called 911 from a cell phone.

Arends told fire crews that Runkle waded out into the water about 10 to 15 feet. At that time, 3 to 5 feet of water covered the roadway, Sapp said.

Arends told her not to get into water while he was making the 911 call. After he completed the call, however, he said he lost sight of her. Investigators believe Runkle was attempting to help retrieve Crocker, Sapp said. Arends told investigators Runkle, who was originally from Sturgeon, was a good friend of Arends' fiancee.

Crocker told investigators he was traveling west on Clark Lane in a 1994 Ford Mustang when he entered the water. He said he did not realize how deep the water was. He then put the vehicle in reverse in an attempt to escape the floodwaters, but it spun around several times.

Crocker was able to climb out of a window and briefly stand on the roof of the vehicle before it became submerged, Sapp said.

Firefighters responded to the 911 call and rescued Crocker. Sapp estimated that Crocker was in the water for 30 to 35 minutes before fire crews arrived. He was taken to University Hospital for hypothermia and exhaustion. He was released Sunday morning with a swollen right hand.

Emergency crews searched for Runkle for more than two hours, but suspended the search at 5:30 a.m. because of poor conditions.

As of 11:40 a.m. Sunday, floodwaters had swelled the creek to three times its normal capacity, Sapp said.

As of 2 p.m. Sunday, rescue crews were unable to safely launch a watercraft to continue the search because of quickly moving water and the amount of debris in the water, Sapp said.

The Missouri State Highway Patrol, the Water Patrol and other emergency services were notified, and fire units were stationed on Interstate 70 and Keene Street at the Hominy Creek bridges in case Runkle was able to get to shore.

The portion of Clark Lane near Hominy Creek will be barricaded for an indefinite period of time, Sapp said. He said the road will still be impassable after the water clears because of construction in the area. Clark Lane was not closed off until after the incident occurred.

At 11:31 p.m. on Saturday, firefighters responded to a similar call at the 3200 block of Creasy Springs Road. Two vehicles were stranded on the roadway because of floodwaters. The drivers were removed from their vehicles and no injuries were reported.

As of 12:15 p.m. Sunday, gauges at Sanborn Field reported 4.44 inches of rain had fallen overnight. Emergency Services and Public Works officials are urging people not to attempt to cross floodwaters in a vehicle or on foot.


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