August 5, 2008

Searchers Mourn Firefighter, Find No Trace of Missing Man

By Chloe Thompson

Joseph Traficante, 38,

of Rehoboth, was fishing with his girlfriend Sunday night on Tiverton's Stafford Pond.

TIVERTON -- As they mourned Sunday's death of a veteran firefighter and dive team member in the search for a missing boater on Stafford Pond, searchers yesterday found no sign of the missing fisherman despite an all-day effort.

Firefighter Gerald Leduc, 52, of 95 Forand Lane, a certified diver who had participated in several Fire Department dive operations, died of apparent cardiac arrest after entering the water, according to fire Lt. Mark Reimels.

Reimels said he believes Leduc's death is the first in the line of duty at the Tiverton Fire Department.

"I don't think it's really hit us yet," he said at a morning news conference as the search continued for Joseph Traficante, 38, of Rehoboth.

As the search went on for Traficante after Leduc's death, Reimels said, "That's what he was doing, that's what we're continuing today."

Searchers have "one area of significant interest," believed to be where the boater was last in the water as reported by his girlfriend, Brandi Hurst. Traficante and Hurst were fishing from an 11-foot boat Sunday when a storm passed through, according to Sgt. Steve Criscione of the state Department of Environmental Management.

The search was suspended around 6 p.m. and is due to resume today at 8 a.m.

Criscione said the storm produced "heavy rain and some wind." The water in the pond is around 82 degrees, he said.

Officials couldn't say why Traficante left the boat, but they didn't believe he fell overboard due to the storm. However, the boat was headed back to the ramp where they had launched it, presumably to get away from the storm, he said.

When Traficante did not reappear in the water, Hurst called 911 and put on a life jacket to jump in the water after him, officials said.

Six dive teams, underwater cameras and underwater probes were employed yesterday afternoon to aid in the search for Traficante.

"It's a big body of water to search," Criscione said, estimating the water to be 20 feet deep in some places. The pond is a popular fishing spot that spans about 700 acres and is stocked by the DEM with trout. Underwater visibility is bad more than 50 feet offshore, he said.

Divers from Fall River, Westport, Portsmouth, the Rhode Island State Police and Dartmouth, Mass., all worked on the search. They would go into the pond for hour-long stints before breaking because of fatigue. Officials said the murky water is full of stumps and rocks that slow the process.

Leduc worked at Station 4, on East Road, and had been a firefighter for 25 years. He began as a volunteer when he was 16, and at least one of his two sons has followed in his footsteps as an EMT.

A memorial fund has been set up in memory of Leduc, called the Gerald Leduc Memorial Fund. Contributions can be made at any Bank of America.

Lt. Mark Reinels, of the Tiverton Fire Department, addresses the media yesterday on the search for a missing boater on Stafford Pond. The Providence Journal / Bob Breidenbach [email protected] / (401) 277-7462

Originally published by Chloe Thompson, Journal Staff Writer.

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