Police: Missing Wis. Student's Body Found In River

Published March 5, 2012 9:18PM (EST)

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A body recovered by emergency personnel searching a river was identified Monday as a missing Wisconsin college student who had been out celebrating his 21st birthday over the weekend, authorities said.

Stevens Point Sgt. Dan Wheeler said officials removed the body of 21-year-old Eric Duffey around 1:10 p.m. from the Wisconsin River, which goes through the city about 110 miles north of Madison. The coroner's office made a positive identification after meeting with Duffey's family.

Firefighters on boat and a diving team had been searching for any sign of Duffey in the river. The University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point student disappeared after he left a downtown bar early Saturday morning.

Stevens Point assistant police chief Brian Kudronowicz said emergency personnel including the Civil Air Patrol had been scouring a part of the river where the ice becomes open water. He said it's not far from where Duffey was last seen.

Kudronowicz said the department had received new information that led officials to believe Duffey walked into the Wisconsin River.

"I think alcohol had something to do with his actions," he said.

Wheeler said that information included a witness who came forward and said he heard someone yelling for help at about 1:30 a.m. Saturday near the Clark Street bridge. But Wheeler said the witness didn't see anyone when he checked.

Duffey, who's originally from Fitchburg, was last seen about 1:15 a.m. Saturday leaving Joe's Bar. Kudronowicz said he may have been heading back to his residence or the residence of his girlfriend. Police do not suspect foul play.

Kudronowicz said police had already stopped an exhaustive neighborhood search for Duffey that included the use of tracking dogs and about 150 volunteers knocking on doors, checking backyards and passing out fliers with Duffey's photo. Police also sent a Code Red Alert out Saturday evening and again on Sunday morning. With the alert, police asked residents between downtown Stevens Point and Duffey's residence to check their property for signs of him.

A message was left Monday afternoon to a telephone number listed to Duffey's family in Fitchburg.

Several college-age men around Wisconsin have disappeared after drinking heavily at taverns only to turn up dead in local rivers over the last decade. Former Green Bay Packers offensive coordinator Joe Philbin's 21-year-old son, Michael, was found dead in the frigid Fox River in Oshkosh after a night out with friends in January.

By Salon Staff

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