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The Force Of Nature

Mike Devlin stands by his father's homemade memorial marker on the south bank of the Rogue River, and points to logs sawn from a toppled pine that took his father's life — and nearly his own.

Terry Lee "Duke" Devlin and his son were only an arm's length apart on the afternoon of Aug. 1 when the tree, 3 feet in diameter, suddenly crashed down. There was no wind, no real warning, just a crushing blow, Mike Devlin said.

"All I heard was a little bit of a snap," he said. "Out of the corner of my eye I saw my dad putting his hand up. I took a half turn and then I was underwater. When I came out from under, it was mayhem."

Surging adrenaline helped the 45-year-old son free himself from the branches. But the adrenaline was no help when he tried to lift the tree from his 66-year-old father, Devlin said.

(Correction: See below.)

"I jumped over the log," Devlin said. "And when I saw him, I started to try and move the tree. There was just no way. No way. His chest was crushed. I told my little brother to go call 911."

The two men had been dredging off Duke Devlin's riverside home near the confluence of Evans Creek and the Rogue River. They were just about to begin sifting gold from the sand and gravel when the pine toppled, killing his father and crushing the dredge, Devlin said.

"I firmly believe he was gone before he hit the ground," Devlin said.

Believing his father had been killed instantly, Devlin said, he grabbed the battery and a gas can from the dredge, then raced back up the trail toward the house to guide rescue crews to the site of the accident and check on his 10-year-old brother.

(Correction: See below.)

"This kind of ruined his little life," Devlin said, adding the boy's mother was working out of the area at the time of the accident.

Rogue River Fire District Chief Ben Ramsey said crews arrived at the Rogue River Highway address shortly after 5 p.m. Duke Devlin suffered "significant trauma to the chest" and no resuscitative efforts were attempted at the scene, he said.

Crew members noted the pine had not been cut or pushed. Nor were there any signs that wind or weather played a factor in the tree's fall, Ramsey added.

Devlin noted Wednesday morning that several trees along that area of the river had fallen in recent years. Across the river a dead tree lay half-in and half-out of the water. Other trees show signs of beetle kill and beaver predation.

But just days before the accident, Devlin and his dad had noted a bald eagle perched on the large pine, he said.

"We'd taken pictures with the eagle in it," Devlin said.

Devlin said he and his father had a challenging relationship and previously hadn't been on speaking terms for a period of time. But that had changed since he moved back to his father's property a week prior to the accident, he said.

"He was kind of a grumpy guy," Devlin said. "He wanted better for me."

Duke Devlin had insisted they work that particular spot, he said. His father had found three pieces of gold in the shallows and the pair were just starting to pan, Devlin said.

"He was helping. He was too old for it, really," Devlin said. "But his interest was still piqued."

Devlin said he thinks his father may have been suffering from cancer, and perhaps knew his days were numbered.

"My dad did say he was going to die here," Devlin said. "It's like he had an appointment with death."

Devlin posted a notice on Craigslist, warning others about the accident in hopes he could help them avoid a similar fate.

"A tree can even fall upriver, then come down and wipe you out," Devlin said.

Devlin is also hoping to trade tools or "muster some cash" to help him repair the pontoons and motor on his dredge so he can continue his gold mining efforts. Just weeks before the fatal accident, someone stole $3,000 of mining equipment from the back of his truck while he camped on the property, he said.

"Dredging has been my last dream for several years and it finally became a reality," Devlin said. "I kinda feel like a curse has been chasing me around."

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 541-776-4497 or e-mail sspecht@mailtribune.com.

Correction: Ages in this story have been corrected.

Mike Devlin carved his father's name into a chunk of concrete he poured at the spot where a falling tree killed his dad on Aug. 1 as they were working on a mining dredge in the Rogue River near Evans Creek. - Bob Pennell