Rescuers Take on Swamp to Save Man Stuck in Mud Near Littlerock


First responders from multiple agencies fought brush and muck to rescue a man who was stuck in the mud near the Black River in Littlerock overnight this weekend, according to authorities.

“He’s lucky, actually, that he’s alive,” Lt. Lannette Dyer, spokesperson for West Thurston Fire Authority, said.

Citizens began calling 911 at 12:45 a.m. Sunday reporting hearing a man yelling for help. Four Thurston County Sheriff’s Office deputies checked the area at 110 Avenue Southwest near the river.

Members of the Thurston County Sheriff’s Office Dive Team arrived and waded through the water and brush for about 200 yards before contacting James A. Mueller, 44, a Thurston County resident, who was stuck in the mud, according to a sheriff’s office press release.

Mueller, who allegedly fled from a deputy during a traffic stop Saturday evening, had been in the water for about nine hours and was hypothermic. The outside temperature was 38 degrees.

Because Mueller’s condition was becoming critical, he was not able to assist rescuers and crews from other agencies were called to the scene.

Dyer said because the river isn’t swift anymore, when it floods it fills in the lowland forest area surrounding it creating a mud bog with dense brush.

“Literally you step through the water and you just sink up to your chest, so it’s actually quite dangerous because there’s no actual physical land to walk on,” Dyer said. “It looks like it might be there, but it’s just mud.”

Dyer said the department’s crew was called to the scene at 4:42 a.m. Sunday.

East Olympia, Griffin and McLane/Black Lake fire departments also arrived to assist. About 25-30 responders were at the scene along with medics, who were waiting on land for the patient.

King County Sheriff’s Office Guardian Two responded, but was unable to assist due to the heavy fog. Guardian Two remained on standby to help, if needed.

Using chain saws, crews cut a path to better reach the man.

Once he was freed from the mud, rescuers transported him using a rescue basket designed for confined and wooded spaces.

However, it still wasn’t easy to maneuver, Dyer said, especially in heavy mud, and crews were able to go about 15 yards in 45-60 minutes.

“It was a manpower intensive rescue,” Dyer said.

Rescuers successfully extricated Mueller from the bog at 10:40 a.m. When crews made it back to the medic unit with the man, he was wrapped up and transported to Providence St. Peter Hospital in Olympia.

“(He) was pretty cold, pretty tired, as was everyone,” Dyer said.

Sheriff’s office Lt. Cliff Ziesemer told The Chronicle Mueller was in the water a minimum of about 10 hours, but based on when he ran from the vehicle, it was probably closer to 15 hours.

Prior to getting stuck in the mud, a deputy attempted to pull Mueller over at 7:16 p.m. Saturday for speeding on Littlerock Road Southwest and 110 Avenue Southwest. The driver had pulled into a driveway and ran from the vehicle. The deputy could not locate Mueller at that time.

After being treated and released from the hospital a few hours later, Mueller was transported to the Thurston County Jail and booked for two felony warrants and one misdemeanor warrant. No charges have been referred for the vehicle stop.