The Wahkiakum County Eagle - Established as The Skamokawa Eagle in 1891

Body found in river was that of Island resident


October 11, 2018

The body of a man found in the Columbia River last month has been identified as Puget Island resident Joe Abeyta.

Clatsop County Medical Examiner Dr. JoAnn Giuliani said late Friday afternoon that fingerprints confirmed the identity. Abeyta lived alone in a waterfront residence on the northern side of Little Island. He was often seen walking with his dog across Puget Island bridge into Cathlamet to collect his mail.

At the request of Dr. Giuliani, newspapers published a detailed description of his clothing, and Wahkiakum County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Bigelow recognized the description of Abeyta's salt and pepper beard and his garments, including a sweater that belonged to Abeyta's late wife, Carolyn, which Abeyta often wore. He contacted the sheriff's department, and after obtaining probable cause to enter his residence, they found no one home and alerted Clatsop County officials who focused their investigation on Abeyta and were able to confirm identity through fingerprints.

Dr. Giuliani said that initials embroidered in his wife's sweater, C.A., matched her initials, a detail that she hadn't released.

Abeyta no longer had the dog at the time he went missing.

Dr. Guiliani has listed the cause of death as undetermined. Death investigations are never closed until a cause of death is established.

The medical examiner said Abeyta had medical conditions that may have contributed to an accidental drowning. Upon learning that Abeyta was the man found in the river, two acquaintances on Sunday said they had been with him at separate times when he had experienced seizures.

Following is Dr. Guliani's announcement:

"On September 21, 2018, a body was discovered in the Columbia River along the Washington shoreline near the Megler Bridge. This man was retrieved from the water and brought back to the East Mooring Basin in Astoria, with the case coming under the jurisdiction of the Clatsop County Sheriff’s Office.

"After ruling out multiple people and speaking to multiple families, the decedent was found to be 65 year old Joe E. Abeyta, of Cathlamet. Mr. Abetya lived along the Columbia River in Cathlamet, and that it was felt he went in the water near his home.

"This would account for the lack of him carrying ID or any personal items on his person. The condition of his body and clothing also demonstrated to investigators that it was unlikely he crossed the shipping channel of the Columbia River.

"There were no signs of foul play in this case, and Mr. Abeyta had some medical conditions that would lead him to have possibly drowned accidentally. No witnesses have come forward to this point who actually saw Mr. Abeyta go into the water. Anyone who thinks they saw Mr. Abeyta after September 7, 2018, that could help us in determining the circumstances of his death are to call the Clatsop or Wahkiakum County Sheriff’s Offices.

"I would like to thank the Coast Guard, the Astoria Police Department, the Wahkiakum County Sheriff’s Office, the Wahkiakum County Coroner Dan Bigelow, and principally the Clatsop County Sheriff’s Office for all their help.

"Most of all, I would like to thank the press for publishing my press release in detail, because it was precisely those details that led us to Mr. Abeyta. He had not been missing at that time, but the clothing described was unusual and tipped the Wahkiakum County staff as to this being Mr. Abeyta. It was the public’s concern and participation that helped us rule in and rule out people this could be, and this is greatly appreciated."


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