Former fugitive can’t escape surf

<p>A tow cable is walked out into the surf in order to pull Ronald Legler’s truck free.</p>

CRANBERRY RD — A local man who managed to evade Clatsop and Wahkiakum county authorities for more than a month in 2012 couldn’t evade a rising tide last weekend.

Sunday afternoon, surf rescue volunteers, paramedics, police officers and sheriff’s deputies raced to respond to a call for a surf rescue about a quarter mile north of the Cranberry Road beach approach.

But in the end, the only person who could render aide was the tow truck driver who arrived in his massive off-road truck a few moments later. It turned out that the drowning “victim” was actually a shiny blue four-wheel-drive truck.

As a steadily rising tide broke over the hood of the truck and the back end bobbed in the surf, a distraught man in soaking-wet jeans tried to explain to authorities how the truck had ended up at sea.

The driver, William Harris, 27, of Long Beach, explained that he and the truck’s owner, Ronald Legler, 40, of Rosburg, had been searching for mushrooms in the dunes, when Legler asked Harris to move the truck further north. Legler did not specify what type of mushrooms he hoped to find.

According to Chief Criminal Deputy Pat Matlock of the Pacific County Sheriff Office, Harris “said he nodded off and drove into the surf. … When the deputy got there, the guy was still in (the truck), and the motor was still running because he thought it would be easier when the tow truck arrived.”

Matlock said there was no evidence that either man was intoxicated, and police did not find any illegal substances at the scene. However, Harris did not elaborate about why he had fallen asleep on the short drive and swerved into the ocean, leaving behind a curving set of skid marks that ended at the water line.

Emergency responders convinced Harris to climb out of the truck.

A tow truck driver waded into the hip-deep frigid water to hitch the truck to his towline, and was able to quickly haul the inundated truck out of the surf. It was unclear whether the truck was still operable.

Earlier misadventure

Legler has had better luck avoiding encounters with the authorities in the past.

In August 2012, he walked away from a Clatsop County Jail work crew while serving time for heroin possession.

Despite being spotted several times after his escape, he lived as a fugitive for more than a month. Wahkiakum County authorities believe he may have hidden out at his grandmother’s Rosburg home for at least part of that time.

In early October 2012, Wahkiakum County sheriff’s deputies caught up with Legler, and extradited him to Clatsop County.

While no one was harmed in this incident, Matlock said it is still important for emergency responders and citizens to remain vigilant about the threat posed by the Peninsula’s often-treacherous waters.

“In this situation, nobody was in actual danger, but there was the potential that somebody could be,” Matlock said, “We’ve seen people be swept into the water when they were just up to their knees.”

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