Keizer man drowns in rescue attempt
A Keizer man drowned along with the Keizer boy he was attempting to save on the North Santiam River Friday, May 18.
Anthony Barkley Berlin, 5, of Keizer, was fishing with his father Jacob Jay Allen, 23, of Gates, at Niagara County Park, near Gates, about 3:30 p.m., when he fell into the river. Eric Eugene Johnson, 22, also of Keizer, dove in to attempt to save the child, but drowned as well.
Linn County Undersheriff Bruce Riley said a group of friends that included Allen, Johnson, and Berlin were fishing off the bank when the child fell in and Johnson went in after him.
David Laughlin, Johnson’s cousin, said the man was attempting to help a 3-year-old child in the fishing party when Anthony lost his footing and fell into the water from the bank.
“Without hesitation, [Eric] jumped in and eventually was able to grab the 5 year old but, in holding onto him, he no longer had the use of his arms and slipped under the water holding the child close,” Laughlin said.
The rough terrain of the area hampered rescue efforts as well, Ripley said.
“It’s a rough area with a steep bank and a treacherous current. Even our rescue crews had trouble navigating the banks,” Riley said.
Deputies from Linn County and Marion County sheriff’s offices responded to the scene alongside crews from the Albany, Salem, Jefferson, Gates and Scio fire departments and searched the area for the two Keizer residents until nightfall. Johnson’s body was recovered by divers. Reach Helicopter and the Army National Guard assisted with the search from the air.
Johnson leaves behind a 21-month-old son and friends have established a memorial fund to help cover his final expenses. Johnson, a 2007 graduate of McKay High School, was unemployed at the time of his death. Contributions can be made to the “Eric Eugene Johnson Memorial Fund” at any U.S. Bank location.
“He was a kind person, always putting people before himself,” Laughlin said.
Keizer Renaissance Inn has stepped in to host the Celebration of Life after a service at Weddle Funeral Home in Stayton Friday, May 25.
The U.S. Corps of engineers assisted in the search by dropping the water level in the area, but planned to release more water into Niagara Park to cope with rain on Monday while the search continued.
“It’s traditionally been a trouble spot,” Riley said. “People need to be careful whether they’re fishing off the bank or just recreating there.”