Search continues for woman missing after Christmas Eve crash in Stoddard County

Tuesday, December 29, 2009 ~ Updated 12:09 PM
By Noreen Hyslop ~ The Daily Statesman

POWE, Mo. -- A Missouri State Highway Patrol helicopter from Troop C in St. Louis entered the search effort Monday for Shirley Stratton, the Bernie, Mo., woman who was swept into the flood waters along Route U about one mile west of the Powe community early on Christmas Eve morning.

According to the patrol's information officer, Sgt. Dale Moreland, the helicopter was put in service Monday afternoon, but was unsuccessful in finding any trace of the missing woman.

The search effort includes the highway patrol, the Missouri State Water Patrol, the Missouri Department of Transportation, the Stoddard County Sheriff's Department and family members and volunteers.

According to the highway patrol, Stratton was traveling west on Route U Thursday morning on her way to work at the SATOP office at Poplar Bluff, Mo., when her vehicle hydroplaned and slid into the high ditch waters that were nearly to the level of the highway from continuous rains.

Moreland confirmed that two witnesses to the accident rushed to rescue the woman from her vehicle after it floated downstream for a distance of over 400 feet and became lodged on top of a large culvert.

"The front half of the vehicle was submerged," Moreland reported, "and one of the men entered the water to help the driver, but she was pulled under the water by the current."

Moreland explained that rescuers believed Stratton was still inside the submerged vehicle, a 1999 Ford Taurus, until they pulled the car from the ditch, and discovered the car empty.

Volunteers and divers from the water patrol were deployed shortly thereafter. Two articles of clothing, a shoe and a jacket, were found later Christmas Eve day after the vehicle was pulled from the water.

Stratton's husband, John Wayne Stratton, along with his sons and several other relatives, have spent their daylight hours walking the ditch banks and aboard all-terrain vehicles looking for any other trace of their loved one.

"I still have hopes that she got out of the water," John Stratton said Saturday, as divers were lowered in a water patrol boat into the ditch to begin the dredging process.

The water patrol, however, is proceeding with what they are referring to as a "recovery effort," according to that agency's Jefferson City office.

Water patrol divers braved frigid water temperatures and high winds with temperatures hovering around 30 degrees over the weekend as they waded chest-high waters. Sunday, Monday, and into Tuesday, divers have continued sweeping the ditch waters for any sign of the missing woman. Ice had formed along the ditch banks and was broken by search poles as the divers waded westward down the ditch. Waters Saturday had receded to about five feet by noon, and water temperatures were estimated by the water patrol to be in the low 40s.

Efforts Monday were concentrated in the wooded area that lies close to where the vehicle went into the water, Moreland said.

He added that a plan was in place to bring cadaver dogs onto the scene Tuesday to aid in the recovery mission.

Shirley Stratton is 49 years old. She is a native of the Philippines and moved to the area after her marriage to John Wayne Stratton just a few years ago.

"She planned to test for U.S. citizenship in 2010," her husband said Saturday.

The couple's home is in Bernie, where her children attend Bernie Schools.

Stratton is an employee of the SATOP office in Poplar Bluff and has for some time worked two days each week in the Dexter SATOP office on Business Highway 114.
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