Investigation into teen’s fall, death continues

Water rushes down Elk Creek Falls on Sept. 10. The photo was taken from an overlook between the falls and the trailhead off State Route 8 southwest of Elk River.

The investigation into the death of the 16-year-old Deary High School student whom search crews recovered from Elk Creek Falls eight days ago is expected to be completed in two to three weeks, said Clearwater County Sheriff Chris Goetz.

Goetz said the autopsy of Luis Diaz of Bovill is complete, but Goetz has not yet seen the report. The sheriff’s office is waiting on toxicology results, which will indicate if drugs or alcohol were in Diaz’s system. Even though it took search crews four days to locate Diaz’s body, Goetz said the toxicology test will detect any drugs or alcohol that Diaz may have consumed.

He said the main point of the investigation is to see if any criminal wrongdoing took place.

“It appears to be an accident, but we still are going to complete the investigation and make sure that we didn’t miss anything with that,” Goetz said.

Diaz was with a small group of friends hiking around the falls the afternoon of Sept. 8 when he apparently slipped and went over the edge into the water.

Goetz said Diaz was wearing cowboy boots, and the rain that day made the rocks near the falls extremely slick.

Elk Creek Falls is a popular hiking destination on Elk Creek, about four miles south of Elk River.

Stefani Spencer, Palouse Ranger District ranger in the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests, said information stating a fatality occurred and advising hikers to stay on the designated trails will be posted at the Elk Creek Falls Trailhead.

Spencer said the trail system at the falls is already marked with signs that say not to leave the designated trails, but Goetz said investigators believe Diaz was in a remote area of the falls, where most people do not go and where there is no railing to potentially prevent a fall.

Spencer said there are designated observation points with observation decks and railings around them on the trail.

“We do discourage people from leaving the designated trail system,” Spencer said. “However, you know, it is public land and it is their prerogative whether or not they choose to stay on the designated trail or hike over land.

“There are hazards with hiking in the forest regardless of whether you are on a designated trail or not,” Spencer said. “We do maintain our trails and design them to the safety standards that we have within the (U.S.) Forest Service, so the trail is safer than walking across forest land.”

The initial Clearwater County Sheriff’s Office news release stated Diaz’s friends saw him fall but did not see him again after he entered the water.

Multiple agencies searched for Diaz until they discovered his body the night of Sept. 11 — three days after Diaz fell, a sheriff’s office news release stated. He was wedged in rocks and crews were unable to remove him until the afternoon of Sept. 12.


Garrett Cabeza can be reached at (208) 883-4631, or by email to gcabeza@dnews.com.

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