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July 14, 2014 11:23 PM

Unofficial Search Continues Daily For Woman Lost In Flood

Newell, SD

It's been a month since a 24-year-old Colorado woman disappeared in a flash flood that swamped part of Highway 85 north of Newell.

The full-scale searches for Kristen Lakin are long finished. but the county sheriff and local ranchers say the hunt for her body will continue.

"About any time you go out, you know, either horseback or on a four-wheeler, if you get down next to the river, if that's where you're traveling, you're always looking," Butte rancher Randy Fox said. He lives along the South Moreau River about 12 miles downstream from the accident site.

Laking and 57-year-old Roxanne Bleibaum hit raging water on a late-night drive south on Highway 85 on June 17. The two were returning from jobs in the North Dakota oil fields. Swollen Battle Creek hadn't topped the highway since a grade was built in 1965. But it swamped their vehicle and cast them adrift in the dark, cold water.

Bleibaum survived after a rough, wet night struggling in the water and debris. She was walking back to Highway 85 early the next morning when spotted and helped by a highway worker. Lakin is presumed dead. She and Bleibaum were together for a time in the water, but soon becames separated.

Butte County Sheriff Fred Lamphere says he's never seen such water hit his county. A powerful rainstorm with high winds stalled in the drainage upstream from Highway 85, sending a deluge toward the highway. Lamphere said the woman were having trouble driving in the severe rain and wind and hit water that was coming over the highway.

He said they climbed up on the vehicle and held onto the luggage rack but eventually were swept downstream with the strong current.

Standing at the site Monday, Lamphere said the dry highway ditch and gently blowing grasses were deceiving.

"It looks pretty peaceful , but I can tell you that night it was the kind of violent water that I've never seen," he said. "It was just like a white-water river going down through there."

An all-out search for several days after the accident failed to locate Lakin. Ranchers continue to look as they go about their regular chores. But the flood left debris strewn for miles, across wide river bottoms thick with vegetation. A body could be anywhere and while it's a difficult search, it won't be abandoned entirely.

Like Fox, Lamphere said he wants to find Lakin, no matter how long it takes. Many other ranchers, emergency personnel and volunteer searchers feel the same, he said.

"You know, I've got kids that are right at that age group," Lamphere said. "A lot of our responders have kids in that, and family members. And there isn't a one of us that don't want to help this family find her, and put closure to it."

Lampher says volunteers interested in helping with the ongoing search should check with his office or other authorities first.  Most of the ground is private and has dangerous debris piles and caving river and stream banks.

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