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Wendy Reuer, Published May 12 2012

Valley City woman who drowned trying to save dog identified

VALLEY CITY, N.D. – A woman died after she went into the Sheyenne River here to save her dog Friday morning.

After rescue crews pulled the woman’s body out of the river, the dog jumped back into the river and drowned, said Valley City Fire Chief Gary Retterath.

Thirty-eight-year-old Jodi Kvien Opatz called dispatch around 8:15 a.m. to ask for help getting her spaniel out of the river, near the Little Dam on the southwest side of the city.

Kvien Opatz told dispatchers she was going to attempt to save the dog, although dispatchers told her to wait for help and not go in, Retterath said.

It’s unclear if Kvien Opatz entered above or below the dam. When rescuers arrived, the longtime Valley City resident was under the surface of the water, near the shoreline of the Little Dam and Eighth Avenue Bridge in the lower part of the dam.

Retterath said Kvien Opatz probably saw her medium-sized brown dog in trouble and thought she couldn’t wait.

“It was almost like a family member or a kid to her,” Retterath said. “You risk your life for someone you love, and she loved (the dog). I guess I believe that is what went through her mind.”

While crews attempted to rescue the woman, the dog managed to pull itself out of the river, Retterath said.

“I happened to see the dog, and I think I even said, ‘Oh good, the dog is out.’ ”

Retterath said he and other rescuers were preparing to leave the scene when the dog went back into the water.

“By the time we got to it, it was too late. It got into the undercurrent of the dam,” Retterath said.

Retterath said late Friday that the incident is still under investigation. Although a city public works crew reported seeing both a dog and woman in the water, no witnesses of Kvien Opatz entering the water have come forward.

Retterath arrived on scene with other rescuers within seven minutes. Interim Police Chief Mark McDonald said Kvien Optaz’s body was pulled from the river within 30 minutes of that call.

The temperature of the river water was around 55 degrees, which could have led to hypothermia quickly for both the dog and Kvien Opatz, Retterath said.

McDonald said family told police Kvien Opatz is a strong swimmer, but the dam’s location – where falling water creates a strong suction – and cold water could have played a role in her death.

“To me, a river is so deceptive whether it’s deep, there’s still a lot of current involved, or if it’s a shallow river, the speed of the water is very deceptive,” McDonald said.

Kvien Opatz’s body will be sent to the state crime lab in Bismarck for an autopsy.

“It’s a sad story, I mean what else can you say. It’s a sad story with a tragic ending,” McDonald said.


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WDAY reporter Todd Kurtz contributed to this report.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Wendy Reuer at (701) 241-5530


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