Search Ongoing for Woman Missing in Raging Waters of Pole Creek

Search efforts are continuing in remote Hinsdale County near its border with San Juan County on the upper Rio Grande for a 64-year-old Louisiana woman who disappeared in raging Pole Creek last Thursday evening, June 27.
Tessie Strickland and her husband, Tommy, were returning to Silverton after a day’s outing in Creede when their 4-wheel drive jeep was caught in strong current on the Pole Creek crossing on Stony Pass.
The couple had successfully made the creek crossing earlier in the day on their 4-wheel drive jaunt to Creede but encountered stronger than expected current in the creek on their return up Stony Pass around 7 p.m. that evening.
According to Mr. Strickland, he and his wife were the sole passengers in the jeep when it stalled in the midst of engine-deep water in Pole Creek.
Current in the creek was so intense that the jeep and Stricklands were spun around and carried down stream roughly 10’, the jeep remaining on its wheels with the hood — submerged in water — pointing upstream. It was at that point, at dusk with water rushing onto the jeep’s hood, that the couple climbed out onto the soft-top roof of the vehicle in the stream and made the decision to jump ashore.
According to the couple’s daughter-in-law, Jessica Strickland, the jeep was in the midst of the rushing tream only 4’ from the side of the bank. In endeavoring to jump, however, Mrs. Strickland fell partially into the stream and was clinging to the bank while her husband, who had jumped into the stream to rescue her, attempted to push her up onto the bank.
The stream’s current was too strong and cold, however, and in endeavoring to push his wife up onto the bank, Strickland was sucked under and carried about 40’ downstream until being caught on a protruding branch. He managed to crawl out onto the streambank and, on returning up stream, Mrs. Strickland was nowhere to be found.
Jessica Strickland, who later flew to Colorado to join in the unsuccessful search, credited two miracles that day, the first being her father-in-law’s survival from the cold, rushing water and the second being his timely rescue by two passersby a short time later.
“We had two miracles that day,” Jessica Strickland writes, “that allowed us to keep our dad. A third miracle was not in God’s plan, he called my Mom home.”
Tessie Strickland remains missing despite intense search and rescue efforts by San Juan and Hinsdale Counties with aid from neighboring Mineral County.
Search and rescue efforts by volunteers from the three counties continued at mid-week this week concentrating on sections of willow-fringed Pole Creek and the upper Rio Grande River to Rio Grande Reservoir. The distance from the point where Mrs. Strickland disappeared on Pole Creek down to Rio Grand Reservoir is approximately eight miles.
Search efforts began immediately after Mrs. Strickland’s disappearance last Thursday evening and continued with volunteers from Hinsdale County Search & Rescue on Friday, June 28, whose search efforts concentrated on heavy vegetation with willows which line the banks of the creek as it enters the Rio Grande and down into Rio Grande Reservoir.
After Mrs. Strickland’s disappearance, Tommy Strickland was found by passersby who transported him back to Silverton where he alerted San Juan County Sheriff’s Office. Hinsdale County Sheriff Justin Casey was in turn notified of the woman’s disappearance at 8:20 p.m. Thursday.
Initial phase volunteers who arrived at the scene Thursday evening from Lake City included Patrick Tubbs, Evan Milski, Noah Krouse, and Keith Chambers.
A second phase of Lake City searchers arrived on the scene Friday morning, June 28 and included Tom Carl, Jerry Johnson, Christian Hartman, Logan Rhodes, John Bonner, and Darren Hardy.
Seasonal resident Delbert Frieze also assisted, manning a radio station which was located on Ute Creek at the upper end of Rio Grande Reservoir.
Extensive search operations have included more than 25 personnel from Hinsdale County Sheriff’s Dept. and Hinsdale Search & Rescue, as well as their counterparts from San Juan County and Mineral County.
Search efforts have included helicopter reconnaissance of portions of downstream Pole Creek and upper portions of Rio Grande River leading down into Rio Grande Reservoir. Helicopter surveillance was provided through assistance from Colorado Division of Fire Prevention & Control.
Personnel have conducted extensive foot searches along the banks of the waterway, as well as utilizing a drone manned by Dan Murphy for aerial surveillance in areas not easily accessed on foot.
Tessie Strickland is apparently the most recent victim of excessive high mountain spring runoff. Two individuals drowned in the Gunnison River, one in close proximity to the Lake City Bridge at Highway 149 and 50, late last month. Mineral County has also reported several drowning fatalities which prompted recreational closure of the Rio Grande River.
On the same day that Tessie Strickland disappeared, last Thursday, June 27, Mineral County Sheriff’s Dept. reported the disappearance of a 33-year-old Creede resident, Zack Jones, a U.S. Marine veteran, who disappeared after falling from his raft in the Rio Grande River near Wagon Wheel Gap at 12:40 p.m. Thursday.
Mineral County Sheriff Fred Hosselkuss is reportedly in process of bringing in rescue dogs which are trained in locating the bodies of drowning victims. The dogs may be used to assist in the search for both Jones and Strickland.
In consequence of Mrs. Strickland’s disappearance, Rio Grande National Forest has closed the Pole Creek crossing on Stony Pass.
Those recreating in the back country are urged to use extreme caution around waterways of any type and to avoid crossing streams and rivers which are presently bank-full with spring runoff. Weather and temperature fluctuations during the day can cause dramatic increases in water level over the course of only a few hours.
According to Sheriff Casey, streams which are relatively shallow and easily crossable during the morning hours can easily increase in depth and velocity, and become impassable by the evening hours.
According to long-time Lake City locals such as Hinsdale Sheriff’s Office Dispatcher Bobbi Vickers McDonald, stream crossings at Pole Creek on Stony Pass are often not possible until late June even during years when spring runoff is running at average level.