KUNA — On May 15, a group of 30 trekked trails up and down the Payette River near Gem and Boise counties looking for Jerry Coburn.

“He wouldn’t give up on us,” said Brandy Lee, Jerry’s sister-in-law. “If we were in that river, he would search night and day. We will not give up on him. We want to bring him home.”

Jerry Coburn, a Kuna resident, went missing on May 7 after he left to go fishing and scout out a family camping spot at Horsethief Reservoir, near Cascade.

“He wanted his family to go camping on Wednesday, May 10,” Lee said. “So he decided he was going to take a day trip to go find a good spot. Just to get out of the valley for the day.”

Now almost two weeks later, Jerry Coburn is suspected to be dead, and his family has been searching for him everyday.

“We want closure,” Lee said. “We want him home. Yes, he is most likely gone from this world but we need to give him a service. We need to know where he is and what happened.”

The family has been searching alone, without much help from the Boise County Sheriff’s Office, but has only found what they think are some items from Jerry Coburn’s truck and some other clues to what happened to him on May 7. Boise County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Steve Dorau says an official search for the missing truck will begin when water levels in the Payette River are low enough for a safe search and recovery mission.

“The water levels have risen since witnesses saw a truck go into the river,” Dorau said. “Our team knows that with how cold the water is, and how fast it was going, it would only take 10 minutes for someone to lose consciousness and drown.”

WHEN JERRY WENT MISSING

Lee said Jerry Coburn is more of a brother than a brother-in-law. Jerry Coburn started dating his fiance, Heather Bailey, back in 1996 when Lee was 10 years old.

“My sister was about 19 or 20,” Lee said. “And he always just treated me like his sister, even in the annoying ways.”

Heather Bailey gave birth to the couple’s only son two years later and named him Marcus Coburn. Lee said during their years together, Jerry Coburn worked on the road as a long-haul truck driver and delivery driver, and he had developed a habit of calling his fiance whenever he needed to check-in.

When Jerry Coburn didn’t call after 12 hours of fishing, the family began to worry.

“He had left at 8 a.m.,” Lee said. “At around 9 p.m. we began to get worried. I left Heather’s at 9:30 p.m. because I had to put my kids to bed and I told her to call me. I got a text at 6:30 a.m. the next day saying Jerry never came home.”

At around 12 a.m. on May 8, Marcus Coburn and his mother decided to drive up to Horsethief Reservoir themselves to see if Jerry Coburn had gotten his truck stuck somewhere. They arrived to the campgrounds just before 2 a.m. and searched the area, but Lee said they saw no signs of Jerry Coburn’s truck or fishing equipment. The two decided to head back home around 4 a.m. and asked Jerry Coburn’s brother Matthew Coburn and his family to start searching.

“So far we didn’t know what had happened,” Lee said. “But on Monday I got a call around 10 a.m. from my mother, and she was in tears. She said there had been a terrible accident. I just fell to the ground.”

Matthew Coburn’s wife Debby Coburn decided to report Jerry Coburn as missing to the Ada County Sheriff’s Office. The Boise County sheriff then contacted the family saying witnesses saw a truck matching the description of Jerry Coburn’s vehicle, a 2011 blue F-250, fall into the Payette River on Highway 55 near mile marker 70.

In an instant the family knew Jerry Coburn most likely crashed that morning into the river and drowned.

“I went to my parents where Heather and Marcus were,” Lee said. “And the first thing I saw was Marcus. He was sitting in Jerry’s 1979 Ford truck just hugging the steering wheel sobbing.”

Lee said the family started asking the Boise sheriff’s office for clues or information to help them understand what happened, but so far they have felt like they hit a dead end with police.

Dorau said witness statements are not public record as long as an investigation into a crime or incident is ongoing. He said he has been able to give the family some information at his discretion, but the sheriff’s office cannot say if the truck was Jerry Coburn’s or not.

“We won’t be able to see the truck until the water levels are much lower,” Dorau said. “We searched (on May 7), but we quickly realized this would not be a rescue. It did not make sense to risk the lives of the search and rescue team for a possible body.”

Lee said some locals say they witnessed the crash and even saw Jerry Coburn attempt to escape his truck. One woman even told the family they tried to throw a rope out to the truck.

Dorau said rumors of witnesses seeing Jerry or attempting to help him are false, according to the actual witness statements.

Lee said soon the family decided that they would begin searching for Jerry Coburn themselves. A group of friends, family and volunteers have been searching every day with kayaks, binoculars, dogs and a rental pontoon boat donated from RedLine Recreational Toys based in Eagle. A few family friends donated money for a Silverhawk Aviation helicopter for a few hours to do an aerial search of the river. The searches have been lead by Jerry Coburn’s step-brother Michael Taggart, who has been vocal about the family’s efforts on social media and news outlets.

The family said they made some headway on their search when they found what they believe are some items from Jerry Coburn’s truck on May 13.

“The first thing they found was a red Flying-J coffee cup,” Lee said. “I know I have seen that cup 100 times, but I wasn’t 100 percent sure it was Jerry’s. The cup used to be my dad’s, and Jerry would borrow it to go fishing. When I showed it to my dad he started crying and said that was it.”

Lee said they also found stickers on the cup, like the ones Jerry Coburn’s nieces would stick onto their uncle’s stuff. Lee said the family also found a black fishing pole with a cork handle and a headrest from a truck seat.

“Now we don’t know for sure if the fishing pole is Jerry’s,” Lee said. “We do know that he took a larger dark blue pole and a smaller yellow pole. The headrest was not faded by the sun and didn’t look like it had been in the water a long time. We looked up the make and model of Jerry’s truck and the headrest matched the photos.”

Lee said after two weeks of searching it feels like the family is just grasping at straws, but they are not ready to give up.

REMEMBERING JERRY COBURN

Jerry Coburn was the family jester, a baseball fan, bad at laundry and had a laugh that was highly contagious.

“Gosh he could make anyone laugh,” Lee said. “No matter what mood you were in he would say something stupid and laugh and then you had to laugh too.”

Jerry Coburn also had a love for children and enjoyed spending time with his many nieces and nephews.

“The Saturday before he went fishing my daughter had a soccer game,” Lee said. “And she just started playing so she was so nervous. He showed up to her game early and started kicking the ball with her to get her warmed up. He just made her feel so good.”

Jerry Coburn, who was originally from Boise, played baseball in high school and gave that same passion to his son Marcus, 18, who played baseball for the Kuna Kavemen. His son graduated in May, 2016, and was set to leave for the Marine Corps in a few months.

Coburn worked for years a long-haul truck driver, but hated being on the road for too long away from his fiance and son.

“Heather and Jerry have been engaged for 17 years,” Lee said. “He proposed to my sister when Marcus was 1. But things kept coming up and they never really set a date.”

After Jerry Coburn quit long-haul trucking, he started working as a delivery truck driver, mainly for a local glass company. The long-term driving jobs had started to affect Jerry Coburn’s back, and after a mishap with a heavy piece of glass, he found himself under the knife for back surgery.

“He was out of work for a while,” Lee said. “But he was just starting to get over that. He was looking at starting work again.”

Lee said her sister is trying to stay strong for her son, but the grief of losing Jerry Coburn is almost too strong.

Lee said she has been out almost every day with the search group and they plan to keep searching until Jerry is found.

Danielle Wiley is the reporter for the Kuna Melba News. Contact her at 922-3008 or email her at editor@kunamelba.com

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