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Ethete man's death due to drowning in canal, coroner says

May 23, 2013 - By Katie Roenigk, Staff Writer

Preliminary autopsy results show Curtis LeClair, 62, of Ethete, died of asphyxia due to drowning.

The man's body was found Monday in the Wyoming Canal system about 400 yards from the inlet to Pilot Butte Reservoir. He had been missing since early Friday, May 10, when he reportedly left the area of 532 Diversion Dam Road on foot.

Coroner Ed McAuslan said the preliminary autopsy report didn't reveal any signs that would explain how LeClair ended up in the Wyoming Canal. In a press release last week, Sheriff Skip Hornecker said he didn't know whether LeClair actually fell into the canal, but "strong indications" have led investigators to that conclusion.

The coroner's investigation into LeClair's death will remain open until final autopsy results are available in four to six weeks, McAuslan said, but he added that the case seemed "pretty straightforward."

"We're not doing an active investigation," McAuslan said. "It's just until we get the final report it will be kept as an open case."

The Fremont County Sheriff's Office is in the process of closing its investigation into the death.

"We have a few things to visit with the coroner's office about, but we plan on officially closing that investigation here by the end of the week," Undersheriff Ryan Lee said Thursday.

He said his agency does not suspect that any foul play was involved.

Body found

Officials said LeClair's body was discovered at about 1:30 p.m. Monday after it reportedly surfaced and was spotted by a Tribal Game and Fish warden.R32;"He was assisting with the scaled-down search and he found the body in the waterway," Undersheriff Ryan Lee said Tuesday. "He was able to alert us, and we responded appropriately."

McAuslan said it's common for a body in water to stay submerged for several days before appearing at the surface.

"It will stay on the surface for a period time, and then due to natural processes it will sink again, and then it will not come back up," McAuslan said Tuesday. R32;He commended area search crews and volunteers for their work recovering LeClair's body.

"There was a lot of effort put into this," McAuslan said, adding that LeClair's family members also aided in the search. "It's thanks to the efforts of everyone involved he was found."

The search for LeClair was initiated after he was reported missing Saturday, May 11. Crews spent several days focusing on nine miles of the Wyoming Canal between Diversion Dam and Pilot Butte Reservoir. On May 15, the Bureau of Reclamation lowered water levels in the canal for two hours in an effort to decrease flows and possibly create a surge to loosen any trapped remains. By May 16, crews were using a 21-foot boat equipped with a side-scan sonar unit to search the inlet flow area of Pilot Butte Reservoir for signs of LeClair. Hornecker said the same boat was later placed in the Wyoming Canal, where it was used to scour the canal floor, sides, siphons and outlets looking for any evidence of LeClair's possible drowning.

Hornecker enlisted the public's help Friday, asking canal users to examine thoroughly any catch grates, siphons or obstructions daily for evidence that might lead to locating LeClair. The official search was scaled down Friday, but Hornecker said crews planned to continue comb the canal's ditch banks, flying aircraft over the area on occasion and conducting small search and rescue exercises over the canal.R32;On Monday, Hornecker said full-scale search operations had been suspended with the exception of aerial reconnaissance missions being conducted throughout the day. He said volunteers also searched the Wyoming Canal from Pilot Butte Reservoir to the town of Pavillion using sonar.

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