Woman drives car into river, passenger drowns

KEOSAUQUA – A man died Friday night, drowning in the Des Moines River after the vehicle he was riding in entered the river down a boat ramp.

The Van Buren County Sheriff’s Office has identified the man as Gavin Hannah, 22, of Memphis, Missouri, and formerly of Fairfield.

According to a news release from the Van Buren County Sheriff’s Office, dispatchers received a call at 11:43 p.m. Friday from a residence along the Des Moines River on Jade Avenue near Keosauqua about a possible motor vehicle accident.

The reporting party stated that a female had come to their door asking for help. The female was wet, and claimed to have driven off the roadway and into the river. She also indicated there was a male passenger in the vehicle with her at the time of the accident.

The woman, later identified as Paris Nichole Wahl-Bickham, 21, of Birmingham, was transported to the Van Buren County Hospital for treatment, and was subsequently released.

The responding sheriff’s deputy and a volunteer began searching the immediate area for the missing man. They searched for two hours but discovered neither the man nor the vehicle.

On Saturday at about 8 a.m., a caller reported seeing a “ripple” in the Des Moines River about 100 yards downstream from the boat ramp located in the Badlands private campground. The caller stated the ripple had not been there before.

Officers from the Van Buren County Sheriff’s Office, Iowa State Patrol, Iowa Department of Natural Resources, Wapello County Emergency Management, Ottumwa Fire Department, Van Buren County Attorney and the city of Keosauqua responded to the scene.

A vehicle was recovered from the river. Watercraft equipped with sonar, a drone equipped with video, and forward-looking infrared radar was used to search the river and river banks for the missing man, to no avail.

The following morning, Hannah’s family found Hannah’s body downstream of Keosauqua.

The incident is under investigation by the Iowa State Patrol and the Van Buren County Sheriff’s Office.

Fairfield Fire Chief Scott Vaughan said his department has a search and rescue boat, but the Van Buren County Sheriff’s Office did not call him for assistance. He said the department doesn’t dispatch its boat unless it’s asked to do so by the incident commander, which in this case would be the Van Buren County Sheriff’s Office.

Jefferson County Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Bart Richmond said his department was not called for assistance, either.

[This story has been updated to reflect the fact that the vehicle driven into the river was a car, not a truck, and that Hannah’s family found his body.]