River rips man, 22, from father
Kevin French said he never saw his son go under in the Colorado River on Tuesday.
He never saw him come up, either.
In the frantic seconds before 22-year-old Alex French slipped out of his view, Kevin French said he desperately tried to guide them both out of the way of a downed tree, which he estimated jutted out some 60 feet from shore into the river.
“I got pinned up against it,” Kevin French said about the tree Wednesday. “He was holding on to me, and I tried to dig through it ... (the river) was just too powerful.”
Alex French disappeared underwater “within seconds,” Kevin French said.
The Clifton man said he is unsure whether his son jumped or was thrown from his inner tube. Kevin French said he was floating in his own raft, which wasn’t tied to the inner tube trailing just a few feet behind, carrying his son. Alex French’s longtime friend, Cody Dolan, 20, was nearby in another raft.
They all wore life jackets, according to Kevin French.
Alex French’s body was recovered Tuesday night, entangled in a tree approximately 200 yards west of the Orchard Mesa pedestrian bridge. The Mesa County Coroner’s Office on Wednesday did not identify the victim of Tuesday’s incident or issue a ruling on cause and manner of death.
Kevin French said the downed tree wasn’t in the river Saturday, when father and son took their most recent float along the Colorado River.
“We’ve been up that stretch hundreds of times,” Kevin French said.
On water or land, Alex French was constantly on the go, despite a disability that doctors long ago predicted would never allow him to walk, family and friends said.
Alex French had been diagnosed with arthrogryposis, a rare condition characterized by stiff joints and abnormal muscle development. Through a host of surgeries up through about age 12, he wore casts and braces on his legs, according to French’s sister, Trisha.
“I still picked on him and beat him up,” said Trisha, 23, mustering a smile amid tears Wednesday afternoon as a family, friends and co-workers gathered at Fly’n Roosters restaurant, 569 32 Road, where Alex French worked, busing tables.
In recent years, Alex French’s condition left him with limited ability to bend his knees, and he used his right arm to assist in some functions of his left, Trisha said.
His peers, as it turned out, worked to keep pace with Alex French.
“You’d never know he had a disability,” said Ann Danner, Fly’n Roosters’ co-owner, who hired French roughly a year ago. “Alex was the type of kid you could always count on and had a great attitude.”
A 2008 graduate of Palisade High School, French was two days shy of graduating on Thursday at Intellitec College in Grand Junction, where he had studied computer-aided design in pursuit of a career in architecture. The college has agreed to issue French’s diploma posthumously, Kevin French said.
“He would want everybody to keep rafting,” Trisha said.
Debris makes river treacherous to float