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TF teen dies in Missoula


by Annie Wooden

A Thompson Falls High School student died last week following a traffic stop in Missoula.

Luke Comerford, 17, died Tuesday, June 18. At 7:30 a.m. that day, Missoula County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) received a report of a stolen vehicle, which was located on Broadway in Missoula. MCSO reported that four people were in the vehicle, three were detained and one (Comerford) jumped into the Clark Fork River and that Comerford was the driver of the vehicle.

Friends and family gathered Sunday to remember Comerford, who was entering his senior year at Thompson Falls High School. Administrators had counselors available at the school last week to support students and staff.

“We grieve the loss of Luke Comerford, one of our Thompson Falls School family,” said Superintendent Bill Cain. “Our thoughts and prayers go out to Luke’s family, friends and loved ones. We recognize that this is a difficult time for all affected and our school district has responded to the needs of students, staff and those struggling significantly with this loss. It is my hope that this community surround this family with support, take great care of our youth, and remember these are all of our kids.”

Brenda Bassett, public information officer for MCSO, stated that OnStar assisted deputies in pulling over the vehicle, which was stolen out of Moses Lake, Washington. Bassett stated that the people in the vehicle included an adult and juvenile from Missoula County and an adult and juvenile (Comerford) from Sanders County. The names of the occupants in the vehicle were not released. Bassett said that two people jumped out of the vehicle, one was detained and Comerford jumped into the Clark Fork River.

Several agencies, including the Missoula Police Department, Missoula County Search and Rescue, a helicopter and various fire departments assisted in the river rescue. Bassett stated that at one point, Comerford came back to the shore and an officer tried to get him out of the water, but that Comerford jumped back into the water and went under. When Search and Rescue got him into their boat, CPR was performed, but Comerford was pronounced dead at the hospital, Bassett said.

The other people in the vehicle were detained interviewed and released, according to Bassett.

Ravalli County Sheriff’s Office assisted in the coroner’s investigation as the death was considered in custody. Ravalli County Sheriff/Coroner Steve Holton said an autopsy confirmed that Comerford died due to drowning. He said the combination of elevated water and swift current with a very cold water temperature likely contributed to the drowning, noting that the teen was in the water for approximately 1 hour, 10 minutes.

Sheriff Holton said it is a common practice for an out of county agency to conduct a Coroner’s investigation when a person dies in the course of being taken into custody by law enforcement officers. The Missoula County Sheriff’s Office is investigating the circumstances leading up to the male exiting the vehicle and jumping in the river.


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