Fugitive Drowns in Flathead River While Fleeing Law Enforcement

Search and Rescue crews on June 21 recovered the body of a North Carolina man near Blankenship Bridge after he ran into the North Fork Flathead River to evade law enforcement

By Maggie Dresser
Blankenship Bridge north of Columbia Falls on July 30, 2020. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

Search and Rescue (SAR) crews last Friday night recovered the body of a 35-year-old North Carolina fugitive at the confluence of the North and Middle forks of the Flathead River north of Blankenship Bridge following a foot pursuit from law enforcement, according to a Flathead County Sheriff’s Office (FCSO) news release.

Steven Jeffrey O’Shields, of Franklin, N.C., had multiple extraditable felony warrants for his arrest involving crimes, including burglary, theft of services, obstruction of law enforcement, and sexual battery against a child, all of which were charged in his home state, according to the news release. Officials said he was also reported as a non-compliant sexual offender.

On June 20, the FCSO received a tip that O’Shields was reportedly in the Kalispell and Evergreen areas, but deputies failed to locate him.

The following day, June 21, at 7 p.m., deputies received a report that O’Shields was at the Big Creek Campground in the North Fork area on foot and carrying a sleeping bag. Deputies found O’Shields walking south on the North Fork Road near mile marker 11.

Upon contact with law enforcement, O’Shields immediately fled into the woods, eastbound toward the North Fork Flathead River. After a short foot pursuit, deputies saw O’Shields wade into the river before the current carried him downriver to the south.

Deputies observed O’Shields struggling to stay above water before he went around a bend and out of sight just south of Glacier Rim.

At 9 p.m. with the assistance of Two Bear Air Rescue, O’Shields was observed submerged in the water north of the Blankenship Bridge. Boat crews from North Valley Search and Rescue recovered the man’s body and turned it over to the Flathead County Coroner’s Office. On June 24, the body was transported to the Montana State Crime Lab in Missoula for an autopsy and identification.

The incident is under investigation by the Montana Department of Criminal Investigation.

A GoFundMe account has been established to cover the cost of returning O’Shields’ body to his family in North Carolina.

[email protected]