It was first reported by the Toole County Sheriff’s Office on Feb. 9 that two fishermen from Missoula County had gone missing the evening of Feb. 8. The two fishermen and one other friend had been camping on the north side of the Marias River, down below the Adamson Road in Southeast Toole County. It was learned that the men had left camp earlier in the day to visit people staying at another camp located on the south side of the river, west of South Bootlegger. When they did not return the third man from their party went to find them, following their tracks to an area of open water.
The temperature in the area dipped far below zero, making the search operation that much more difficult. Toole County deputies conducted an initial search operation with assistance from Toole County Search and Rescue, Cascade County Search and Rescue, Malmstrom Air Force Base helicopters, Toole County ambulance personnel, the Cascade County Sheriff’s Office and North Toole County Fire providing radio assistance.
The search for the missing men continued the next day, extensively searching the area. A recovery effort was attempted, with the assistance of the Flathead County Sheriff’s Office and Two Bear Air Rescue, using their underwater camera. The effort was unsuccessful due to the harsh weather conditions.
On Feb. 16, a rescue attempt was made to recover the bodies of the two missing men, later identified as Jared Russell, 43, of Missoula and Jerid Kirschenheiter, 40, of Clinton. With the assistance of Cascade County Sheriff’s Office, Cascade County Search and Rescue, Flathead County Sheriff’s Office, Toole County Search and Rescue and Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, the Toole County Sheriff’s Office made a recovery. The suspected location was opened in the ice and two divers entered the water, located and brought the bodies to the surface. The bodies of the two men were taken to the Montana State Crime Lab by the Toole County Coroner.
Kevin Curtiss, a friend of the two men, had shared his frustration with KRTV at the amount of time the recovery efforts took, stating that the Toole County Sheriff’s Office had been refusing help that would allow the recovery to happen. Toole County Undersheriff Ryan Larson explained that this was not true, that the recovery attempt hadn’t been made sooner due to the sub-zero temperatures making it too dangerous. Using a remote vehicle to recover the bodies had been considered, but TCSO decided that divers needed to do the recovery so a proper investigation could be done. Therefore, the air temperature had to be at least above zero.
“It just came down to the crime scene factor,” said Larson. “This is a tragic accident, but even accidents on land are investigated as crime scenes.”
Toole County Coroner Dan Whitted stated that the cause of death was drowning and the manner of death was an accident.