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Man clings to tree while river rages

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

During last weekend's floods throughout Bandera County, a man ended up clinging to a tree, but his mule and dog were not so lucky during an incident that occurred the night of Saturday, May 23.
The tragic event happened on Highway 16 North across from Mansfield Park. According to law enforcement reports, that night, apparently, John Hale, 67, of McKinney, had parked his truck and horse trailer at Twin Elm Guest Ranch off FM 470. Aware that the Medina River was rising, he and other friends decided to leave the area before water across FM 470 made the road impassable. Several vehicles pulled into the Bandera Electric Cooperative on Highway 16 North before deciding to head south.
Pickup trucks and trailers ahead of Hale took off down Highway 16, but, unknown to him, decided to turn into Mansfield Park. However, when Hale pulled out onto Highway 16 going south, he drove straight into high water.
It had been impossible for first responders to place high water barricades north of the park.
Almost immediately, Hale's truck and trailer were swept into brush and trees lining the riverbank and eventually ended up in the Medina River.
No one was aware the accident had happened until a deputy with the Bandera County Sheriff's Office noticed the truck and trailer floating down the Medina River. The time given was shortly after 10 pm.
According to Chief Deputy Matt King, Hale got out of the vehicle and narrowly avoided being swept away by the raging waters. In his account, he said that the current actually pushed him into a nearby tree. To keep his head above the rising waters, he was forced to climb up the tree almost 10 feet. Hale's mule donkey and dog did not survive the accident.
"Rescuers had to use a PA to speak to him," King said, "because you couldn't hear anything above the sound of the river. Mr. Hale apparently had no idea the water was there before he drove into it."
When the river water began to recede, rescuers and volunteer firefighters tethered a line onto the gate at Mansfield Park, which enabled Hale to climb down to safety. He escaped his ordeal without serious injury.
Because Hale had lost everything in the accident, two county employees generously offered him a place to sleep that night.
"They said Mr. Hale was grief-stricken about the loss of his animals," King said. "He's retired both from the military and as a teacher. Trail riding is his hobby and he always rode his mule. His whole life was his animals."
King continued, "The incident caused a traffic problem next day. About 20 vehicles were stopped along the highway looking at the wreck before it was hauled away. Both the truck and trailer took quite a beating from all the debris that had been washed down the river."
The bodies of Hale's mule and dog had not been recovered by press time.