Twenty-four year old Christopher B. Melancon, an easy going former Marine and Iraq veteran, died after falling from the Cass Street Bridge and drowning in the Mississippi River. Melancon, a resident of Bloomington, MN, formerly from Milwaukee, WI, was in LaCrosse celebrating Oktoberfest with his friend and roommate, Anthony Triplett, when the pair became separated. La Crosse Police say 24-year-old Christopher B. Melancon fell about 30 feet from the Cass Street Bridge early morning on September 29th. It is still unclear if Melancon fell from the bridge, if he jumped, accidentally fell, or if he was pushed. A witness at a nearby campground who saw Melancon fall into the water jumped a fence to try to get to him, but he disappeared.
Christopher B. Melancon walked across the hall from the apartment where he was staying, befriended a fellow inactive Marine and got a football party moved into his new friend's place. Melancon, an aspiring filmmaker who served as a Marine for four years, including a stint as a supply clerk in Iraq, had been excited about meeting up with yet another inactive Marine whom he had befriended in Iraq. That was typical of the 24-year-old Iraq veteran and Bloomington resident, said Anthony Triplett, another inactive Marine who was Melancon's best friend and housemate in Bloomington. He, Triplett and their friends watched the Badgers game and at 6 p.m., headed about six blocks toward downtown bars. According to Triplett, he and Melancon split up and regrouped a few times while bar-hopping. At 11 p.m., Melancon left him to rejoin his friend from Iraq. The two had had some beers, but "when Chris left me, he wasn't drunk," Triplett said. "He wasn't drunk at all." Triplett headed to a friend's apartment and at 12:15 a.m. text-messaged Melancon, instructing him to call if he needed to get into the apartment to sleep or to call the next morning if he was staying elsewhere. He never texted back. According to Chief Ed Kondracki, "There is no evidence of any crime having been committed... Christopher clearly went over the railing," Kondracki says. However, police don't know how or why Melancon found himself at the end of the Cass Street bridge.
According to reports, campers at the Pettibone campgrounds heard a splash, saw someone in the water and called 911. Police officers were dispatched to the scene around 1:30 a.m. on Sunday for a report of "a person in the water under the bridge," in the slough immediately to the west of the main channel that connects to Pettibone Lagoon. When they arrived, officers were told by an eye witness that an individual fell into the water from the bridge. The witness was a 21-year old La Crescent woman who was 100 feet away. "She was in La Crosse with friends, and then she decided to go home and call her parents to pick her up," says La Crosse Police Sgt. Cary Joholski. "She walked over the bridge so they wouldn't have to drive into town, that's when she made her observations," he says. She then tried to rush down to the river to help Melancon, but when she got down to the water it was too late. "She entered the water in a futile attempt to save him, and that's when she said it appeared as if he gave up and disappeared," Kondracki says.
The woman said she could not tell whether Melancon bumped into the railing and flipped over or jumped off the side. The railing runs the length of the bridge and is forty two inches high (3-1/2 feet). The sidewalk is barely wide enough for two people and the structure vibrates with passing traffic. Investigators do not suspect foul play. The Police Chief says there is no way someone could easily stumble over the side. Melancon was the only person on the bridge when he went over. He had a blood alcohol level three times the legal limit, .24.The witness says Melancon did try to swim after he fell into the Mississippi but police say his ability to swim with such a high blood alcohol level would be extremely difficult. The bridge sits just three blocks from La Crosse’s downtown bar district.
Melancon's body was found about an hour later at 2:23 a.m. after La Crosse Area Dive and Rescue was called in. The body was found in about 8 feet of water in a slough west of the main channel of the river. Medical personnel attempted to resuscitate Melancon, but were unsuccessful.
Melancon's body was taken to Hastings, MN for an autopsy by the La Crosse County Medical Examiner's office. The autopsy indicated Melancon has a preliminary blood-alcohol level of 0.24 percent and that he drowned. There were no other signs of trauma or injury.
According to one report, Melancon drowned just as the city’s famous Oktoberfest celebration was getting under way. Exactly a year ago, Luke Homan drowned just as Oktoberfest was beginning.
Facts of Interest in this Case
Name/age: Christopher B. Melancon, 24 (originally from Milwaukee, WI, living in Bloomington, MN)
College: attended college in Atlanta for two years then joined the Marines because he could no longer afford school.
Military: Marine, formerly stationed in Iraq as supply clerk
Physical Description: Athletic, former Marine, swimmer since childhood
Last seen: 09/30/2007, 1:20 a.m., downtown LaCrosse, WI then Cass Street Bridge
Recovered: 09/30/2007, 2:23 a.m., Mississippi River
Cause of death: drowning
Blood alcohol content (preliminary): 0.24