Investigating a fatal float

More than a month ago, after two tubers floating through Missoula found the body of Dennis Plant in the Clark Fork River, news reports suggested the 59-year-old was homeless. His apparent drowning was lumped in with the rest of the town's too-frequent transient deaths, mostly anonymous and quickly forgotten.

But Plant, his family says, wasn't a transient, and they, at least, haven't forgotten.

Crystal Bunce, 32, the youngest of Plant's four children, is looking for closure. She hopes someone who saw what happened on July 14, the day Plant floated downstream from Jacobs Island past Brennan's Wave in an inner tube, will come forward.

Plant, of Arlee, was a member of the Confederated Salish & Kootenai Tribes. Bunce last saw him on Father's Day. She says he would spend weeks at a time in Missoula, he too-often abused alcohol and he had many transient friends, but he wasn't homeless.

"He had a home in Arlee. He raised us in Arlee," says Bunce, who works for the tribes in Pablo as an accounting technician. "He raised four kids on his own as a single father. And when he raised us he didn't drink or any of that. He was a good father. He didn't start drinking until after we were grown."

Plant's body was found submerged in about six feet of water at the end of Tower Street on July 17. He was fully clothed. Toxicology results showed his blood-alcohol content was 0.27, more than three times the level at which a person is deemed impaired.

At first, Capt. Greg Hintz of the Missoula County Sheriff's office called Plant's death suspicious. But after a month of investigation including dozens of interviews, Hintz doesn't have anything that leads to criminal charges.

"These people were inner tubing and they were intoxicated," he says. "That was basically it."

Hintz has talked with Plant's family almost every day since his body was discovered. They're hoping for new evidence proving that Plant's death wasn't an accident, and that whoever was responsible will be brought to justice.

"I just don't know if we're going to be able to satisfy them," Hintz says.

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