Kayaker arrested for false report of missing canoeists

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EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) – Police now say the report that led to a search for missing canoeists on the Chippewa River was a lie.

On Thursday, the Eau Claire Police Department announced that officers arrested Andrew Wallace, 30, of Manitowoc. Police had found that Wallace told them false information, and that there were no canoeists.

Crews from multiple agencies have been searching the river since Tuesday. That’s when police say Wallace told officers that he saw two men in their 20's who were clinging to a flipped canoe. He told police that he tried to save the men, but that his kayak flipped while trying to help.

Officer Kyle Roder says that cases like these don't change how they investigate missing people reports. "As police officers we have to take every report seriously and we have to investigate it thoroughly, when we do find holes in somebody's story or things that don't seem to add up to us, we have to pursue that route as well. But a story like this doesn't change how we're going to investigate things," Roder said.

Late Thursday, Eau Claire City Manager Russell Van Gompel posted this to his Facebook page:

“I am extremely disappointed if this is true. Not only did the multiple jurisdictions spend resources looking for people, the responders put their own well-being at risk to search for potential victims. Some people don’t appreciate the work of the fine employees who provide public safety for our citizens. My hat goes off to those who provide safety to our community, especially our police, fire and emergency responders. Their service should never be taken for granted.”
EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (EAU CLAIRE POLICE DEPARTMENT NEWS RELEASE) - On Tuesday, April 30, 2013, at 1:38 p.m., the Eau Claire Communication Center dispatched Eau Claire Police Department and Eau Claire Fire/Rescue personnel to the Chippewa River south of the Short Street Bridge for a kayaker in distress in the water. The kayaker, Andrew M. Wallace, was located and indicated that he had overturned his kayak while attempting to rescue two canoeists in distress. He stated that those individuals were still in the river and had been swept downstream. This specific information provided by Wallace led to a multi-agency search for the two canoeists.

Personnel from Eau Claire Fire/Rescue, Township Fire/Rescue, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Mayo Clinic, Eau Claire County Sheriff’s Department and Eau Claire Police Department all actively searched for the reportedly missing individuals.

Since the time of this initial report, the Eau Claire Police Department has conducted a comprehensive investigation into the circumstances surrounding this incident. The investigation revealed that Andrew Wallace provided false information and that there were no canoeists present or in distress. As a result of the investigation, Andrew M. Wallace has been arrested for Obstructing an Officer.

Andrew M. Wallace
Manitowoc, Wisconsin

Obstructing an Officer, WI State Statue 946.41(2)(a): “Whoever knowingly resists or obstructs an officer while such officer is doing any act in an official capacity and with lawful authority…knowingly giving false information to the officer…”

EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (CITY OF EAU CLAIRE NEWS RELEASE) - Due to weather conditions, search operations on the Chippewa River for the two missing canoeists have been suspended.

The conditions will continue to be monitored and operational decisions made accordingly.
EAU CLAIRE, Wisc. (WEAU) - The search for two men reported missing in the Chippewa River continued Wednesday as boats combed the waters south of Eau Claire.

Recovery crews returned to the frigid waters Thursday afternoon, but still have no signs of the two men or their canoe.

Patty Schultz said she's been kayaking for more than ten years. Although she's anxious to enjoy paddling for the first time this season, she said it's just not safe.

"The waters right now are probably some of the most horrendous I've seen in my years of paddling. They are faster and have more intensity to the speed of the water than I've seen," Schultz said.

"I'd say it's scary water and really, people shouldn't be out on the water at this time."

But she said after the two men were reportedly seen hanging onto a canoe being swept away by the current, she had to fight the urge to help.

"It hit me in the gut. I felt like I needed to get my boat out of storage, jump in the river and search. That's always my reaction every time I hear about an incident. It's just the way I'm wired. But I know better than to do that," she said.

She said the search that continued Wednesday brought back vivid memories of the search for 22-year-old Josh Snell, who was swept away by the river in 2005.

"Our paddling group asked if we could assist in searching the river." "So we went out and we did find him. His name was Josh, and I remember it every year. On the anniversary, I remember it," she said.

"None of us knew Josh, but we felt we could do this to help the family," Schultz said in June of 2005.

Now, nearly eight years later, Schultz said she is hoping for a quick and safe recovery.

"I'd like to see the fire dept. Be able to find the kids sooner rather than later. I don't know if that will happen, the water's just raging, so you know, I guess just for the families' sake, and everything, we just hope the recovery is soon," she said.

Police said they still don't know the identity of the two men and no one in the area has been reported missing.

Eau Claire firefighters said they expect to return to the river Thursday.

Schultz is a founding member of the Pure Water Paddlers group that educates the public on canoe and kayak safety with its Demo Day scheduled for June 2 at Half Moon Beach in Eau Claire to teach proper techniques. For more information click on this link.