Drugs, alcohol factors in man's drowning in ditch during flooding

Mar 22, 2017 By Andrea Novotny, Staff Writer

Toxicology reports show drugs and alcohol were contributing factors in the drowning death of a Lander man last month in Riverton.

Joseph Atkin, 33, of Lander, was reported missing at about 10:45 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 21. His body was found about 45 minutes later in an irrigation lateral along Honor Farm Road in Riverton, about a half mile from the spot where he was last seen.

The lateral was flowing with a large volume of water at the time due to localized flooding. R32;


According to toxicology reports from the Fremont County Coroner's Office, Atkin had a blood alcohol content of .169 percent at the time of his death; there also was marijuana, amphetamine and Diazepam, commonly known as Valium, in his system.

Fremont County deputy coroner Tadd Curtin said Atkin's toxicology was relevant to his death and events leading up to the drowning. For example, being under the influence could have distorted Atkin's thinking about safety when nearing flood waters.

Although the levels of each intoxicant were all low, Curtin added, the combination of drugs would have caused Atkin to be quite intoxicated.

"With the mixture of all of them together, that's kind of what brings everything to a head," Curtin said.


Officials said Atkin was last seen outside near the water's edge. It is not know whether he willingly entered the flood waters, or if the ground gave out where he was standing near the flooded area, however, a short time before being reported missing, Atkin was posting videos and photos of the flooded areas on social media.

He was located "partially submerged and hung up in debris" about 1.5 miles downstream from the residence he was visiting.

The Riverton Volunteer Fire Department water rescue team was able to recover the body without incident within about 30 minutes. R32;Officials said water in the drainage ditch along Honor Farm Road had begun to rise above its banks mid-afternoon Feb. 21. By 4:30 p.m., the water had washed over two culverts and a private bridge in the area. R32;The washouts caused flooding over roadways which made it impossible to either gain access to the subdivision or leave the subdivision areas, officials said.

The high rushing water in many areas east of Riverton prompted the Fremont County Sheriff's Office to activate the Emergency Alert System around 5 p.m. Feb. 21in order to notify citizens of the conditions and dangers.

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