Drowning Ruled As Cause In 1 Death, Undetermined In Another

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Investigators have ruled drowning as the cause of death of one man who went missing and was found in the Hocking River but the cause of death for another man whose body was recovered from area waters is undetermined.

Autopsy reports are complete for Samuel J. Wiater, 21, of Athens, and Sammie Steven Donato, 22, of Cincinnati. Wiater went missing in March and was found in the Hocking River more than a month later. Donato had been found in a small body of water near the Dow Lake Dam about a week prior.

Using the autopsy and information from law enforcement, Athens County Coroner Harold Thompson has ruled that the cause of death in Wiater’s case was drowning.

According to the autopsy report, there was no evidence of significant traumatic injury to Wiater. No abnormalities were found to his organs or systems. The report indicates that Wiater’s blood tested positive for both alcohol and marijuana, but Thompson said those factors were not believed to have contributed to the death.

Donato’s autopsy report lists the cause of death as undetermined. His body also showed no evidence of injury, and his blood tested positive for alcohol and marijuana — but again, those substances were not believed to have contributed to the death.

Wiater went missing from his North Lancaster Street home on March 13. His mother reported him missing and endangered and, based on conversations with Wiater’s mother and girlfriend, police believed Wiater may have intended to commit suicide in the Hocking River.

Wiater’s car was found parked near the Hockhocking Adena Bikeway on Currier Street in Athens, but extensive searches of the river and nearby area in the following days were unsuccessful. Wiater’s family continued to hold out hope that he was alive but on April 21, his body was found about a quarter-mile from the Currier Street bridge by a pair of fishermen. Investigators do not believe foul play was involved.

On April 10, Donato’s body was found off of Route 50 across from Dow Lake Dam in an overflow creek. His backpack and its contents had been discovered by a passerby which led investigators to the body in the water.

It was learned that Donato was on a walking trip from his home in Mount Orab to the East Coast with no designated time-frame to complete the trip; he had completed similar treks in the past.

Foul play is also not suspected in the case.

Investigators theorized that Donato may have entered the water on his own to recover items from the backpack or slipped into the stream and was overcome by the cold temperatures and force of the current.