Community comes together following tragic Wisconsin River accident that leaves a local man missing

Taylor Scott, Managing Editor and Nicole Aimone, Editor-in-Chief

Photo by Nicole Aimone, Editor-in-Chief

“One of the most dangerous things about the Lower Wisconsin River is that it doesn’t look dangerous.”

Timm Zumm, president of Friends of the Lower Wisconsin Riverway (FLOW), shared those words of warning and wisdom this week during a brief break in the search for 22-year-old Parker Kruse, of Arena, who was knocked overboard in a boat collision after rescuing someone in need on July 3 into a Wisconsin River that was high and swift.

Law enforcement can be seen using drones to search for Parker Kruse July 3 at the Wisconsin Riverside Resort. Photo by Taylor Scott, Managing Editor

Joni Johnson-Kropp, Kruse’s aunt, speaking on behalf of the family, shared the family’s understanding of the events that led up to and caused Parker to be thrown overboard:

“Parker, his girlfriend Kourtney and friend Brandon were on a sandbar. They saw a boat drive by, hit something and throw the driver overboard. So Parker & Brandon jumped in Brandon’s boat to help the stranded man. They threw him a life jacket and tried to get control of the driverless boat. The out of control boat hit the side of Brandon’s which tossed Parker into the water. Nobody is sure if he resurfaced because of all the commotion. Parker had his life jacket on, but it wasn’t fastened. It was found floating in the water,” said Johnson-Kropp.

“It was like a scene out of a horror movie, with a boat going around in circles,” shared Zumm, noting that most newer boats have a “kill switch” that attaches to a lanyard the boat operator wears and would turn off the motor in any instance where the operator was thrown from the boat. Zumm said he didn’t know if the boat that collided with Kruse’s had a switch that would do that.

Johnson-Kropp said that the driver of the other boat is someone she grew up with and disagreed with any characterization of negligence, “it was a tragic accident.” Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Law Enforcement Supervisor Mike Green stated that the incident isn’t currently being investigated as a criminal matter. 

“The DNR is investigating the boat accident portion of it and the Sauk County Sheriff’s Department dive team and Spring Green Fire have been doing the search and rescue,” shared Green. “They haven’t recovered the body yet, they’re still working on it now.” 

Sauk County Sheriff Department search and rescue dive team arrives on the scene July 3. Photo by Taylor Scott, Managing Editor

Over a half dozen agencies were involved with the search from the day of the incident, dragging the river for several hours the first day and using drones to search for signs of Kruse. They’ve since been joined by Wings of Hope, from Medford, WI, Northstar Search & Rescue, from Golden Valley, MN, Wisconsin K9 SOS Search and Rescue, from Madison, WI, and Bruce’s Legacy, from Black River Falls, WI, among others. 

Official agencies and organizations have also been joined by dozens of community members and volunteers who have coordinated with authorities to walk the banks and have brought their own boats to assist as needed.

“Sometimes we can find people really quick and sometimes it can take days,” said Green. “There’s lots and lots of variables.” It’s “moment by moment” Green said on any decisions to expand the search area. 

In addition to specialized K9 units, recovery teams have been utilizing technical equipment such as side scan sonar & drones, both in the air and water. Spring Green Fire and Rescue set up and has been utilizing a command center and coordinating with the other agencies and volunteers. 

Johnson-Kropp asks those interested in helping to avoid the area in boats when underwater drones and dogs are out to ensure the water is calm, encouraging volunteers to search the banks downriver. Johnson-Kropp has been providing updates on Facebook and community members are encouraged to check there or with Spring Green Fire and Rescue on how to assist.

Sauk County Sheriff Department search and rescue dive team back up to put into the water July 3. Photo by Taylor Scott, Managing Editor

While much is still unknown about the factors that caused the accident, the incident was one of several in the Valley on the Wisconsin River on July 3, with reports of canoes capsizing in the swift and high water. 

“People get lackadaisical on there, especially if they haven’t done any research, they think they’re on a ride at the water park for God sakes, and it’s not, it’s the real deal,” shared Zumm of the Wisconsin River. “You don’t circle back around and you don’t have a lifeguard every 10 feet.” 

“WEAR A LIFE JACKET,” says Johnson-Kropp to those that are planning to recreate on the river. “This river should be feared. Not respected. Feared. She doesn’t care who you are or that you grew up knowing her, she will take you. It’s fast. It’s unpredictable. It’s dangerous. You can enjoy the Wisconsin River. It’s beautiful, peaceful, and great for fishing. But wear a life vest and make sure it’s completely secured.”

“When you get to the parking lot by a boat landing, seatbelt off, life vest on right there. Even one wrong step along the bank and you’re in trouble. Put a properly-fitted, Coast Guard approved, in-good-condition life vest on before you get anywhere near the water’s edge,” says Zumm. “The big point here appears to be, make sure you have it buckled or fastened properly, you can’t just have it hanging on you.”

While the family waits for closure and Kruse’s recovery, they expressed their thanks to all those who have assisted in any way and shared their thoughts and prayers. 

Law enforcement from several area agencies surveying the scene as DNR and Sauk County boats trawl the Wisconsin River. Photo by Taylor Scott, Managing Editor

“The outpouring of love and support from friends, family and the RV community has been phenomenal,” said Johnson-Kropp, noting she lost her son, Kody Phillips, in a car accident in December. “After Kody’s accident I found out what an amazing place we live and how the people here band together to help their own. We can’t thank everyone enough.”

“I see the way this community comes together time and time again. It’s truly amazing and I wish people around the world would treat every person this way all the time—with kindness, caring and compassion.”

“Hug your loved ones tight. This life is such a precious gift and it can change within a breath,” shared Johnson-Kropp.

A vigil was held Wednesday at the Wisconsin Riverside Resort in Spring Green. Kruse has not been found as of press time.  

In light of these events, the River Valley School District has offered counseling services to students and asks that appointments be made by calling 608-588-2551.