Medford teen drowns at South Umpqua Falls

A Medford teenager died Monday when he slipped on rocks in the South Umpqua River northeast of Tiller.

Tyler Dean Lavender, 17, who attended South Medford High School, had been camping with friends at South Umpqua Falls, about 20 miles northeast of Tiller on South Umpqua Highway, according to a press release from the Douglas County Sheriff's Office.

"I was not comfortable with him going, because I know how dangerous it can be there," said Dana Woehrle, Lavender's aunt. "He was not the strongest swimmer."

The teen was at the top of the falls in swift-moving water that was 4 to 6 inches deep, the release said. He slipped, sliding down the rock into a large pool of water, above the top of the falls. The pool of water he fell into was about 8 to 12 feet deep and the water temperature was about 40 degrees.

Friends tried to rescue him, but pressure from the water kept them from pulling him out of the river, according to the sheriff's office release.Members of the South Umpqua Swift Water Rescue team were able to get Lavender to the water's surface, but by then he had drowned.

Woehrle and her husband Jeff Woehrle raised Lavender from the age of 10, when his mother relinquished custody of the boy.

"He was going to be a senior this year and he was very excited about that," Dana Woehrle said.

She said Lavender was well-liked at South Medford High School, where he participated in boxing. He planned to attend a university after high school to study architecture.

Woehrle was at work Monday night when a Medford police officer accompanied by the department chaplain delivered the news of Lavender's death. She returned to her home on Summit Avenue to find a large group of Lavender's friends gathered on her lawn.

"They had come to mourn together," Woehrle said. "I didn't know who most of them were. (Lavender) had a ton of friends."

Lavender left behind a younger brother, who "is not taking this very well at all," Woehrle said.

No funeral plans have been made, Woehrle said.

His body was taken to Mountain View Funeral Home in Tri City and is now being returned to Medford.

"He will be missed very much," Woehrle said. "I didn't know losing a child would be this hard."

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 776-4471; or e-mail

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