‘We were so lost it was unreal,’ tuber says

Dana C. Silano

Clad only in a swimsuit and shorts, a barefoot and shivering Erica Coughlin and her boyfriend, Desmond Williams, trekked through the woods late Monday night, stepping on stones, sticks, thorns and anything else unseen in the darkness.

Meanwhile, their friends whom they’d been tubing with on the Moose River knew something was wrong. The two couples had become separated and the lost pair had not shown up on the eastern shoreline.

Their suspicions proved right – Coughlin’s tube had popped when it hit a rock, and after she climbed on Williams’ tube, it eventually flipped, forcing them to come to shore.

“We yelled for Erica and Desmond and got no response,” said Kristin Bourgeois, 23, who was paired with Zachary Kraeger, 22. “It was already dark when we got back to the car after looking for them, so we called 911 for help.”

As a search party scoured the area, the couple realized they might be in more danger than they originally thought.

“We were so lost it was unreal,” said Coughlin, 17 of Boonville. “It was scary and horrible. ... It was weird because I’ve lived here my whole life.”

As the humidity and insect bites began to take their toll on the couple, they decided they needed a break from walking through the brush.

“We rested underneath a bush for a little while because we got tired and thought we could sleep until the sun came up,” said Williams, 19, “but I couldn’t handle seeing Erica like that.”

Shivering and breathing heavily with fright, even their body heat wasn’t enough to keep Coughlin warm.

“So I picked her up and we made our way to a trail by feeling around and listening,” Williams said. “You could hear four-wheelers, but they were so distant you couldn’t tell where they were coming from.”

Also in the distance were those searching for the couple.

“We searched for them on foot, with two groups on either side of the river in opposite directions,” Oneida County Sheriff’s Deputy Alicia Marconi said. “We wanted to cover anywhere they could have been between that time and the last place their friends had seen them. ... The two that were lost probably walked about three or four miles before getting back to their car.”

They found their way back to the car around 2:45 a.m. Tuesday by following sounds and power lines until they reached a road not far from where their vehicle was parked and then called Bourgeois on her cell phone.

The only injuries the couple received were minor cuts and bruises to their legs and feet.

The incident could have been preventable, deputies said.

Marconi said none of the parties was wearing life preservers, and the tubes were those one would use in a swimming pool, not on a river.

Bourgeois said many things ran through her mind when her friends were missing, and remembers what a sense of relief it was when it was learned they were alive and well.

“The thoughts that ran though my mind were, ‘Thank God she’s alive and OK,’” Bourgeois said.