Due to dangerous river conditions, authorities have called off the search for the 18-year-old Centralia High School graduate who is believed to have drowned in Chehalis River late Tuesday afternoon.
Zach Hines-Rager and three friends were reportedly on the Willapa Hills Trail crossing the Chehalis River when they went onto a nearby railroad trestle bridge.
According to friends and family, Hines-Rager told his friends that he wanted to jump in — which is something he had done before.
“It’s not a super uncommon thing either,” said Dusty Breen, chief of the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office Field Operations Bureau, adding that the bridge is a popular recreation site during the warm weather months.
Hines-Rager reportedly jumped in, resurfaced and had started swimming to the bank when he called out to his friends for help due to the cold temperature of the water.
One of his friends got in the water and reached Hines-Rager — but also began to struggle due to the cold water. The friend safely made it back to shore, but during the swim, Hines-Rager had reportedly gone “limp” and slipped out of his friend’s grasp.
He wasn’t seen again.
The Lewis County Sheriff’s Office received the call at 6:45 p.m. Tuesday evening, but did not begin searching until the following morning due to the lack of daylight.
A search began 9 a.m. on March 24 with assistance from the Thurston County Dive Team and continued until 6 p.m. The search resumed again at 9 a.m. the following morning, but the Dive Team stopped efforts in the afternoon due to dangerous river conditions.
Authorities put in a request for additional divers through Washington State Emergency Management Division, but due to a lack of availability and the river conditions on the Chehalis River, Breen said, no additional resources were granted.
Hines-Rager graduated from Centralia High School in 2020. He was on the school’s wrestling team and the club wrestling team his junior and senior years, and played on the football team his senior year.
“He was a great, headstrong, caring kid. He’d do anything for anybody and he’d always put others before himself,” said his father, Lee Hines.
“Zach is going to be missed by a lot of people,” said wrestling coach Scott Phillips. “It’s a tragedy.”
Friends and family erected a memorial to Hines-Rager at the edge of the trestle bridge on Willapa Hills Trail: a simple cross, adorned with Hines-Rager’s club wrestling medals and sports gear and surrounded by photos, mementos and bouquets of fresh flowers.
“This was the last thing you ever gave me and one of the last times we hung out,” reads a message written on a mask that rests beneath the cross. “I’ma miss you buddy, thanks for always being there for me and teaching me stuff.”
Another message, written on a set of red boxing gloves, reads, “Goodbyes are not forever. Goodbyes are not the end. They simply mean I’ll miss u, until we meet again.”
The family created a GoFundMe to cover Hines-Rager’s funeral costs and within 24 hours, they had raised over $8,000 — well over the fundraiser’s $7,000 goal.
“Kim (Hines-Rager’s mother) and I are humbled by all the love and support we have received from all of you! We can’t thank you enough,” posted Hines Friday morning. “As of this point, all searches for his body have been called off and we are at the mercy of mother nature now. God willing, his body will turn up soon.”