The North Bend Eagle


 

Tragedy on the River:

Two-Day search yields body of local hunter, restaurateur

by Nathan Arneal
Published 12/12/12

It wasn’t uncommon for Bob Feurer to finish a day of teaching science at North Bend Central and find goose feathers stuck behind his windshield wipers of his pickup.

LeRoy Bird
LeRoy Bird

There was one feather for each of the geese Feurer’s buddy LeRoy Bird had taken on the river that morning while Feurer was stuck in school.
Feurer told Bird not to put any more feathers on his windshield.

Bird complied with the request. Then next time, Feurer climbed into his truck and found a plastic bag hanging from his rearview mirror. Inside? Three severed goose heads.

Hey, he was promised no feathers in the windshield, right?

Last Tuesday, Dec. 4, there were no feathers or heads in Feurer’s truck. But there was a message left on Feurer’s phone at 3:45 p.m. from his frequent hunting companion Bird.

The message said there were signs of deer near their usual duck hunting spot and that Feurer should tell his son Cade to look south of the usual spot if he went out hunting that day.

More:
• Read coverage and memories of Bird in the Fremont Tribune and Omaha World-Herald
Dec. 5 Eagle update on the search
• Read Eagle coverage of Bird's retirement and son's purchase of Rawhide Steak House in Jan. 2012

Shortly thereafter, Feurer received a call from LeRoy’s wife Barb, saying LeRoy hadn’t come home from his hunt yet. Feurer was not alarmed, though. Bird had just left a message for him at 3:45, so maybe he was staying out a little late on an afternoon hunt.

What Feurer did not discover until later was that the message left on his phone was sent at 6:15 that morning, though it didn’t register on his phone until later in the day.

When it began to get dark and Bird still hadn’t come in, Feurer drove out to the hunting ground along the Platte River just southwest of Rogers, about seven miles west of North Bend. Barb, her son David Bird, and family friend Fred Lambley were already on the scene looking around.

The hunting blinds used by Bird, Feurer and others are on a island in the Platte River called Blind Duck Island. To get there, the hunter has to row a small boat across the channel hugging the north shore until it got shallow enough for the hunter to walk on the sand the rest of the way to the island and the blinds.

Because of the way the river is laid out at that particular spot, the channel between the shore and Blind Duck Island is some of the deepest and fastest water in the river for miles around.

It was a pilgrimage Bird had made many, many times before.

“This is something he’d done hundreds of times, hundreds of times by himself,” Feurer said. “He actually preferred that. I mean, he enjoyed people, but he liked that time by himself.”

When Feurer got to the launch spot around 6 p.m. last Tuesday, an oar was found lying on the shore. Bird’s dog, Lucky, had been found in the area earlier.

Feurer and David Bird boarded a small motorized boat owned by Feurer and headed down stream. A little ways east of the launch site they came across LeRoy Bird’s boat, its anchor rope caught on a snag in the river. It was upsidedown.

“Then I knew that it was not good,” Feurer said. “Something had happened.”
They proceeded down river a little farther before turning back. David got off the boat to follow the shoreline back on foot.

About 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, the Schuyler Fire Department arrived on the scene with ATV’s, manpower and boats. A state patrol unit arrived with a dog. A few other local hunters familiar with the area showed up and volunteered their services.

At 8:30 p.m., a state patrol helicopter with a search light arrived. It was also equipped with a thermal imaging camera that would detect any heat given off by a body on the ground. The camera did not return any hits.

Around 9 p.m., LeRoy’s son Lyle found his dad’s cap and gun still in its hard plastic case washed up on the bank about a half miles east of where LeRoy would have put in to the water.

In all, about 30 people joined the search that night.

By 10 p.m., the searchers were cold, tired and woefully under equipped. It was a dark, moonless night, and many of the searchers had nothing more than a small flashlight to guide them. The Schuyler Fire Department went home around 10 p.m., though some volunteers continued the search until 2 a.m.

Back in North Bend, North Bend Fire Department chief Kevin Dubbs was following the progress of the search on the radio, waiting for the Schuyler department to call for help. That call came around 11 p.m., asking the North Bend department to organize a search starting at the North Bend Platte River bridge and working west. The search was to resume at 8 a.m. Wednesday.

Dubbs and assistant chief Don Kruger met at 6 a.m. to make plans. They contacted Matt Shaw to borrow some airboats for the search. They called in the Dodge County Water Rescue Team to use grapple hooks to drag the bottom of the channel. They called the Morse Bluff Fire Department for more manpower.
The NBVFD set up a command center at McGinn’s Lakes, three miles west of North Bend.

By 7 a.m. Feurer had called for a substitute to cover his classes at NBC and was back on the scene along with LeRoy’s sons David, Lyle and Robert and several others. Again, the search party grew to about 30 people.

In North Bend, Lynda Cerny had heard about the search and, along with Mary Shanahan and others, started gathering food and drink to take to the workers. She garnered donations from the North Bend Mini Mart, NBC high school, Gambino’s Pizza, Bob’s Custom Meats, Floral Creations and Birchwood Manor. She put out a plea on Facebook that brought in a few monetary donations.

Meanwhile, the search continued on both the banks and waters of the Platte River.
As the morning wore on without results, Dubbs and Tom Christensen of the Fremont Fire Department were on their way to meet with their counterparts from Schuyler to reassess their strategy when a message crackled across the radio.

A body had been found.

Shortly before 11 a.m., the ripples of an airboat wake caused a gloved hand to poke through river surface about two miles east of Bird’s launching point.
Feurer was called in to identify the body. It was indeed LeRoy Bird, aged 68 years, who had just retired from his longtime job as owner and chef at the Rawhide Steak House in January.

Since the body was discovered on the east side of the county border, Dodge County Sheriff Steve Hespen was called in to assess the scene and do the necessary documentation.

A autopsy was ordered and determined that drowning was the cause of death, though the circumstances that surround the events on the river early Tuesday morning will remain a mystery.

“We’ll never know how he fell,” Dubbs said. “He had a dog with him, if the dog got spooked, rocked the boat or jumped on him, we’ll never know how he actually went in.”

Feurer said Bird used to row across Branched Oak Lake against the wind just so he could drift back across the lake and fish. When he reached the opposite shore, he’d row back again into the wind and repeat the process.

“That’s how comfortable he was rowing a boat,” Feurer said. “There’s something else that happened that put him in the water and he couldn’t get out.”

At a memorial service Saturday, David Bird delivered a touching and humorous eulogy for his father. He recognized that LeRoy Bird died doing what he loved.

“Some say that the river took his life,” David said. “I like to think he died in the arms of an old friend.”

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