Body recovered from North Pond as suicide investigation continues
After an exhaustive three-day search, the missing remains of a paddleboarder who disappeared on Sunday at Silverthorne’s North Pond finally resurfaced Tuesday evening in a bright orange cover.
However, questions still loom.
On Tuesday afternoon, the Silverthorne Police Department announced that the individual who rolled off his board and sank into the water was being treated as a possible suicide.
Investigators discovered numerous suicide notes that appeared to be written by 55-year-old Wildernest resident Scot A. McChesney. One note, found just 15 feet from the water in a car registered to him, outlined McChesney’s plans to commit suicide in North Pond.
“With all of the investigation that was conducted over the past three days — Sunday, Monday, Tuesday — we had enough information and evidence compiled together,” said Silverthorne Police Sgt. Misty Higby. “We felt that it was time, that we needed to come forward and say something to the community and let them know what was going on and what had possibly transpired.”
Officials have not identified the person recovered from the lake by name — that duty belongs to the Summit County Coroner’s Office — but they have strongly suggested they believe it to be McChesney.
Authorities were first tipped off on the connection after a vehicle was found parked near the pond with the letter taped to a window that directed those who happened upon it to call the sheriff’s office. Multiple suicide notes signed by McChesney were later found at his Wildernest residence, along with two small boxes set aside for his parents. Aside from a mattress box spring on the floor, the apartment was left empty.
Silverthorne Police contacted McChesney’s parents to make them aware of the investigation, but stopped short of a definitive conclusion.
“At this point,” Silverthorne Police chief John Minor said in a press release, “we don’t have enough evidence to conclude with certainty that Sunday’s incident was in fact a suicide. But we’re actively investigating that possibility, and we have no evidence of foul play.”
Recovery efforts at North Pond in Silverthorne started up again Tuesday morning after two days failed to turn up a body.
The Water Rescue team conducted umpteen passes on the pond with cadaver-detecting dogs, stopping at around noon. Shortly before the last canine was taken out for laps on a raft, authorities briefly inquired with The Ponds on Blue River Guy Smallwood, who on Sunday attempted to save the life of the paddleboarder after seeing the individual roll off their board and into the water. After shouting for his daughter to call 911, Smallwood raced out on his own board to save a person he at first thought was a 20-something female.
Search crews were back out on the water Tuesday at around 1:30 p.m. to deploy an infrared underwater camera on the south end of the pond near where several of the dogs had pinpointed. About an hour later, a member ducked his head under a reflective tarp aboard a raft, while another dipped additional radar equipment into a zone marked with three buoys. This was the area believed to be where the paddleboarder had drowned.
The use of these advanced mapping technologies — in addition to avalanche probes, sonar, rescue dogs and diving supplies — were necessary over the course of the search because of the notable obstacles at North Pond.
Though quite shallow at many points — an estimated depth of maybe 10 feet where the body was believed to be located — significant undergrowth and silt made the water especially dark and challenging.
“It’s a murky mess,” explained Don Johnson, who recently retired from Summit County Water Rescue after 26 years. “It’s so incredibly difficult to see things or find things underwater. You can’t even describe it. As soon as you even put a finger down, it mushrooms. If you put a hand down, then it mushrooms that big.”
Because of the sediment-filled nature of most bodies of water throughout the region, it’s not out of the ordinary for such search operations to go any number of days. Johnson recalls a few in which he was involved in Summit lasting as many as eight or nine days.
“It’s not unusual,” said Johnson. “These are wicked when they carry on. Not having a last-seen point is a tough one. Evidently theirs was a little sketchy. But there again, with the weeds and the murk, that’s going to be a hard one.”
After three days and countless manhours, the search operation concluded at approximately 6:07 p.m. on Tuesday evening after about 45 minutes on the water. Two crews made up of nine total members of the Water Rescue team banded together to grab hold of the body and initially tether it to a watercraft.
While one group of five headed for the pond’s dock in the northern section of the water, a crew of four headed to the southern shoreline to hoist the remains veiled in orange into the craft. Once done, the emergency unit gradually made its way back to the North Pond harbor.
“It was amazing to see the teamwork between all the different agencies starting back on Sunday,” said Higby. “It was impeccable how well we worked together and were able to unite and be that team we needed to in order to make this successful.”
With the operation now finished, North Pond Park reopens to the public for all activities on Wednesday.
Anyone with information pertinent to the ongoing investigation is encouraged to contact the Silverthorne Police Department at (970) 262-7330.
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