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Crews search unsuccessfully for submerged car in Forest Grove, hoping 911 caller was mistaken

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Woman reports she saw driver heading into deep water on a closed Fernhill Road

SUBMITTED PHOTO: FOREST GROVE FIRE & RESCUE - Fernhill Road near Taylor Way was completely covered in water Thursday afternoon when a 911 caller reported seeing someone possibly driving into the dangerously flooded area.Rescue crews are in a wait-and-see mode after a witness called 911 Thursday afternoon, Feb. 16, to report a car that may have entered floodwaters on Fernhill Road in Forest Grove and did not come out.

The caller was on Fernhill Road near Taylor Way and saw a car "moving northbound toward her," trying to navigate around "road closed" barricades warning of high water, said Forest Grove Police spokesman Capt. Mike Herb. "The headlights were on, she looked away, and then she noticed the headlights were gone."

The female caller "didn't think there was enough time for the car to have backed up," Herb said, so she dialed 911 fearing the driver might be in peril. "They're out there looking for a possible submerged car."

"We're assuming the caller is a credible witness," said Forest Grove Fire & Rescue spokesman Dave Nemeyer. "There's not a lot of room to turn around right there."

Crews from several different agencies responded, including the Clackamas County Dive Team and conducted a search that was called off around 2:45 p.m. Thursday.

FGF&R officials posted on Facebook that a 911 caller "witnessed a car sink and disappear" while attempting to navigate high water Thursday afternoon. Water rescue personnel were deployed to the scene.

Around 1 p.m., this post appeared: "At this time we are treating this as an occupied car that has someone trapped inside and underwater ... hopefully that's not the case."

Crews searched the areas where the car was last seen — as well as floodwaters downstream — and "nothing was found," read the FGF&R post. "Unfortunately, too much time has passed, and this is now a situation where someone could not survive."

Firefighters halted the operation because they "deemed the situation too dangerous for divers to enter in order to perform a search and possible recovery," according to officials.

Herb remained cautiously optimistic that the car never entered the dangerous waters in the first place.

"We have a witness who made an observation of a vehicle out in the water trying to make its way past barricades," he said. "That doesn't mean the car is absolutely there. It's possible this witness is mistaken. Or it's possible there could be a car out there."

With drier weather expected over the next 24 hours, "We've got to wait for the water to subside," Herb said. "It's not safe with the current for them to continue venturing into the water. The current is running pretty swiftly."

He added that two other cars have recently stalled in high water on Fernhill. "We hope to God there's not another car out there. If we get a report of a missing person later tonight that will certainly be concerning."

"People have got to stop trying to go around those barricades," Nemeyer said. "A full-size Suburban disappeared there last week."

It could take another week for the floodwaters to subside, Nemeyer said. "We're hoping there's a happy ending to all of this."