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Disappearance of 'heroic' deputy hits Wyoming town

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[July 30, 2011]  CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) -- Rescue workers kept watch and combed the banks of a swollen eastern Wyoming river hoping to spot a sheriff's deputy who has been missing since he swam in days ago to try to save a struggling teenage girl.

Converse County Deputy Bryan Gross, 29, is being hailed as a hero for attempting to save the girl from the high-flowing North Platte River in the town of Douglas on Thursday evening.

"Anytime you go into the water like that, it's heroic," said Douglas Mayor Bruce Jones on Friday. "Of course to him, he's probably just doing his job."

Jones said the situation is hitting his town hard.

The girl entered the waterway near the Douglas Yellowstone Bridge, which joins both sides of Douglas, 50 miles east of Casper.

Gross went into the river from one side while several others swam in from the other, Undersheriff Don Schoenleber said.

Other emergency workers recovered the girl about a mile downstream Thursday evening and took her to a hospital. Schoenleber declined to identify the girl.

Steve Henning, Douglas city administrator, said the girl was 14 years old and was in town for a 4-H fair.

"She was distraught with her boyfriend, and she jumped in the river," Henning said.

Gross worked as a Douglas police officer for a few years before recently joining the sheriff's department.

Henning said Gross had worked at the police department as a drug officer, handling a trained dog. He added Gross had gotten married within the past month or so to a woman who worked as a receptionist for the city.

Searchers, including some using boats and aircraft including a military helicopter, have worked the river by daylight, Schoenleber said. And deputies have used lights to scan the water overnight to keep watch for Gross.

Also, Schoenleber said, searchers have been walking the riverbank, with some using tracking dogs.

The North Platte River near Douglas is higher than normal following heavy snows last winter.

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Deputy State Engineer Harry C. LaBonde said the river was running at 6,620 cubic feet per second Friday at a nearby gauging station, downstream from Douglas. He said the flow averaged only 2,110 cfs on the same date over the past 60 years.

"It's higher than you would expect this time of year based on the water we're having with all of the snow and the releases from all the federal reservoirs," LaBonde said.

There have been several deaths in Wyoming this year associated with flooding and high water, including four members of a Colorado family killed earlier this month when a highway washed out in a heavy rainstorm.

President Barack Obama last week declared a major disaster in Wyoming because of spring and summer flooding. The declaration opened the way for the federal government to help the state pay for costs incurred from damaged roads, highways and other infrastructure.

[Associated Press; By BEN NEARY]

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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