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River search ends for missing Huron man

Heather Chapin-Fowler • Oct 21, 2010 at 11:09 AM

(UPDATED: SAFETY SERVICE PERSONNEL IN A WAITING PATTERN)  A 21-year-old Iraq war veteran is missing, and police fear he drowned in the Huron River.

Friends last saw Nathan Dickey, a Huron resident, at about 2 a.m. Sunday walking away from a downtown bar. 

Later, his shoe washed up along the banks of the Huron River, next to the Brass Pelican.  

Police are now scouring the city — and the river — for any answers about Dickey’s disappearance.

Dickey’s friends, however, hope the answer doesn’t come in the form of a body.  

This much, police know:

At about 2 a.m. Sunday, Dickey got upset at some friends he’d been drinking with at a downtown Huron bar. He walked off into the early morning darkness drunk and angry, headed toward the Huron Boat Basin, a Huron police report said.

That’s the last time anyone can say for certain they saw him.

“He’s a good guy,” a young man said Monday at the Canton Avenue home where Dickey lives. “We’re just trying to keep the faith that he’s OK.” 

The man, declining to give his name, said he and Dickey served in the Army together in Iraq. 

A Columbus native who in May returned from overseas, Dickey had been living at a Canton Avenue home with Meredith Gallegos, an employee in the Erie County prosecutor’s victim assistance unit.

He was with Gallegos and a group of other friends late Saturday, drinking at i5’s Bar and Grill on Main Street when he got upset, a police report said.

“Mr. Dickey became angry with the group and advised he would be walking home,” the report said. “He left prior to the rest of the group after yelling at others leaving the bar area.” 

Sunday evening, Gallegos and her friends grew worried after they “exhausted every avenue of finding Mr. Dickey,” the report said.

They called his cell phone, but it was turned off.  They checked the county jail and the hospital, and called every person they could think of who knows Dickey. They posted messages on Facebook, and recalled, too, that Dickey threatened to return to the Columbus area. So they called his grandfather, father and the mother of his child. 

No one knew of his whereabouts.

Sunday evening, Huron police began searching the city for leads. Employees at i5’s and Rivers Edge Inn saw nothing. 

A family by the last name of Dickey had, in fact, checked into the Rivers Edge Inn over the weekend, but it was a dead end — they were unrelated to Nathan Dickey, police said. 

Even Huron police officers who patrolled the city Sunday morning didn’t recall seeing Dickey in the area. Taxi drivers hadn’t seen him, either.

“We are confident this is a missing persons case,” Huron police Chief John Majoy said. “This is not someone who just took off.” 

Dickey has dropped off the radar. 

His truck is still at the Canton Avenue home. His cell phone is shut off and there has been zero activity on his bank account and credit cards since early Sunday. He has posted no messages on Facebook and has not contacted anyone, Majoy said.  

And then, police found the shoe floating in the Huron River near the Brass Pelican. It’s a black-and-white, size 10 Nike — the same type Dickey wore. 

On Tuesday, someone told police a man had been sprawled on the ground in the 300 block of Williams St. early Sunday morning. The unidentified tipster said the man looked like he was passed out drunk, Majoy said.

Police searched the tree lawns along Williams Street and located a puddle of vomit. 

Tuesday evening, a specially trained search dog and its handler from Crawford County were called to the scene. The bloodhound searched Williams Street, but nothing turned up. 

Huron police and firefighters, meanwhile, used the city’s emergency boat to patrol the Huron River. That, too, turned up nothing. 

Majoy said there are no signs of foul play, but police have ruled nothing out. 

“We are looking at every possible avenue,” Majoy said.

Dragging the river with equipment to turn up any body would be a futile effort, since the river bottom is littered with logs and other debris that would complicate efforts. The task would be tantamount to “dragging the lake,” Majoy said.

The river’s deepest parts reach 25 feet, and the water temperature is a little lower than 60 degrees, Majoy said. 

A drowning victim is likely to float to the surface faster in warmer water, while cooler water prolongs the period a body remains submerged, police said. 

Even so, it’s speculation that Dickey drowned.

Police contacted Dickey’s family members, none of whom have seen him.   

Officers distributed flyers to area businesses Tuesday, providing a description: Dickey is a white male with short brown hair, 5-feet-8-inches, 180 pounds and green eyes. He was last wearing a black T-shirt with a gray skull on it, blue jeans and black-and-white Nike shoes.

Gallegos, meanwhile, has created a Facebook page: “HELP FIND NATHAN DICKEY.”

She declined to speak about the circumstances surrounding Dickey’s disappearance, but expressed love and concern for him.

Other residents outside Gallegos’ Canton Avenue home on Monday said Dickey is a “good guy,” and they’re just hoping he’s found.     

UPDATE 10/20: After spending several hours combing the floor of the Huron River this morning, dive teams decided to wrap it up, at least for now.

Sandusky and Huron Fire Departments participated in the search for the body of Nathan Dickey as watercraft from police and fire agencies canvassed the area on each side of the dive effort.

Dickey was last seen Sunday morning after leaving a Huron bar with friends.

A sample of vomit collected along the shoreline of the river is being analyzed to ascertain whether it was left there by Dickey, according to police.

 UPDATE 10/21: The mystery of Nathan Dickey's disappearance continues.

Safety service personnel aren't committed to an active search today for Nathan Dickey, according to the Huron Fire Department.

Fire personnel are ready to "react" in case someone spots Dickey's body, but are standing by in a waiting pattern at this point, Fire Chief Steve Osterling said.

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