3 men who drowned in Sooke River were likely 'puddle-jumping' in their truck: coroner
VICTORIA -- One year after three men died when the pickup truck they were riding in was swept away in the Sooke River, the coroner has ruled their deaths accidental drownings.
Eric Blackmore, Cory Mills and AJ Jensen, all 20 years old, died in the early morning hours of Feb. 1, 2020, when their blue Dodge Dakota pickup truck was pulled into the raging river in Sooke Potholes Regional Park.
The coroner says the three men were likely “puddle-jumping,” or driving the truck through large pools of standing water, in the parking lot at the entrance to the park.
“However, instead of encountering a puddle, they entered a pool of water that was in fact an extension of the Sooke River, having overflowed its banks and flooded the road and parking area,” coroner Carolyn Maxwell wrote.
“The force of the running water was enough to pull the vehicle into the river and to prevent self-rescue,” she added.
The three man had left the home of Jensen’s parents at approximately 10:30 p.m. on Jan. 31. When they hadn’t returned home by the following morning, local residents and emergency responders from across the region joined a search for the missing men.
Their heavily damaged truck was found wedged in some trees on the banks of the Sooke River on Feb. 2, approximately one kilometre from the parking lot where authorities believe it entered the river. Later that day, the bodies of Mills and Blackmore were found submerged in the river approximately two kilometres downstream from the truck.
Jensen’s body was found in the river two days later, on Feb. 4, when the water level had receded.
Following the deaths, the District of Sooke began closing the gate to the park in the evenings to restrict vehicle access overnight. The coroner recommends that Sooke district officials also restrict vehicle access to the park when the river is high and the area is flooding.
The coroner’s report states that the men were likely puddle-jumping. The initial headline of this article did not include the “likely” modifier. The headline has been corrected to reflect the lingering uncertainty in the coroner’s conclusion.