Randy French’s 82-year-old father, Jack, suffered a heart attack this fall — a “broken heart” brought on by the stress of Randy’s disappearance in June, his family says.
“It’s terrible, and I think about it all the time,” Jack French said at a Christmas Day family gathering.
French’s two sisters talk of sleepless nights, trouble eating and sudden bouts of tears. His son, Taylor, his only child, has been too busy managing his father’s house and affairs to go to grief counseling.
“Every day I picture my dad in the river,” said Taylor, 24. “It can get very hard.”
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Idaho Statesman
Idaho County sheriff’s investigators and French’s family think that the 54-year-old Boise native crashed into the Salmon River north of Riggins on the morning of June 30. Items from inside French’s truck and parts of the vehicle have been found along the river — but neither the Chevy Avalanche, nor French, have been recovered.
While French’s loved ones grieve his death, they’re also experiencing a lot of other emotions associated with the inability to recover his body and give him a proper burial. The mystery of how he ended up in the river involuntarily cycles through their minds.
“The thing that drives me the most crazy about this whole situation is that I will never know what happened,” said his girlfriend, Valerie Donahoe, who was in a relationship with him for about two and a half years. “The fact that they haven’t found the truck yet or him is so frustrating. It just seems impossible that a truck that size could disappear in that stretch of the river.”
‘Debilitating trauma of unresolved loss’
Idaho County officials said they have done numerous dives in the area where the truck appears to have gone in the river, and because of the danger of the swift water they’re not going to do anymore dives there. French’s family is desperate to recover his body, so they’ve turned to others for help.
French’s sister Sherry said a friend referred her to the Jon Francis Foundation — which was created in 2007 to support families who need search advice, assistance and money to find loved ones lost in the wilderness. It was established by David Francis, the father of 24-year-old Minnesotan Jon Francis, who died while hiking in Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains.
Until families face a situation like this, they are not always aware that the public sector does not require law enforcement to search until a person’s remains are found, David Francis told the Idaho Statesman.
“The public does not understand and/or is insensitive to the debilitating trauma of unresolved loss,” he said, noting that it can cause depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental illnesses.
The foundation has helped 40 families over the past decade, including five in Idaho. It has committed $5,000 for the search and recovery of French. French’s family is trying to raise money to reimburse the foundation.
(See below for ways to donate.)
Sherry French said a professional swift-water dive team attempted to search the river after Thanksgiving but the water was too high and cloudy. A cadaver dog was brought in to search as well. The dive team plans to return in January or February.
Not an unfamiliar fishing spot
Donahoe said the last text message she got from French was a happy one. He was listening to jazz music — one of his favorite things to do — and admiring the scenery on the drive.
“It was as beautiful as he’d ever seen it,” she recalled. “He was euphoric. He was in a wonderful state of mind when he was driving up. He said he wished I was there.”
She didn’t go because it was a Thursday and she had to work the next day. She thought it was odd that she didn’t get a “good night” text that night, and she knew something was really wrong when she didn’t hear from him Friday. He was good about staying in touch.
French was familiar with the area of the Salmon River where he planned to fish because his parents had previously lived in Riggins. Taylor French said he’d gone fishing with his dad there dozens of times.
“Multiple times a year he’d go up there to fish — every salmon season,” Taylor French said. “And he loved to fish for steelhead.”
Randy French, who worked in sales for many years but was most recently employed at the Idaho Tax Commission, slept in his truck in the parking lot of a hotel to save money, Taylor French said. “If it saves money, my dad is going to do it.” The place where he’d originally planned to fish was within walking distance.
An acquaintance of French who talked to him in the parking lot of the hotel the night before he went missing told French’s family that French talked about feeling dizzy and disoriented, and noted that he had changed his blood pressure medication.
French and the acquaintance were supposed to meet in the morning and fish together, but cellphone “pings” showed French was driving north about 5 a.m. Friday. No one knows where French was headed — the nearest place to fish in that direction would have been about a two-and-a-half-hour drive to the Snake River, a family member said.
Donahoe said she was unaware of any changes in his medication, and she believes she would have known if he had switched. She said he would sometimes forget to take his blood pressure medication, then he would resume, and he’d have a reaction — though he never complained of dizziness.
French’s medical issues included sleep apnea, high blood pressure and acid reflux, family members said. Taylor French thinks his father had an adverse reaction to a combination of medicines, and perhaps lost consciousness before crashing into the river.
Randy French was greatly missed at his family’s Christmas gathering. His father talked about what a great help Randy had been to him in his golden years, helping him fix things and sell a car he didn’t need.
“He was really fun to be around, and everyone adored him,” said Randy’s niece, Hannah Fry.
Donate to recovery efforts
▪ Mail checks to the Jon Francis Foundation, P.O Box 2235, Stillwater, Minnesota 55082.
▪ Donate online at the Jon Francis Foundation’s website.
Click here to do that.
▪ Donate to the “Search for Randy French” GoFundMe account.
Click here to do that.
The French family expressed their gratitude for the support they have received from individuals in the Riggins area and in Boise, including Johnny Wilson (who conducted searches, contacted dive team), Diane Griffitts (emotional support, other contacts) and the Carlson family (provided a guest house).