NORDMAN — A finger belonging to a man who lost several digits in a gruesome wakeboarding accident has turned up in a lake trout caught by a Priest Lake fisherman, according to the Bonner County Sheriff’s Office. Four of Hans A. Galassi fingers on his left hand were severed at the first knuckle when his hand became entwined in the tow rope near Kalispell Island on July 14.
The fingers could not be recovered after the mishap.
Galassi’s companions took him to shore and he was flown by Life Flight for surgery to Sacred Heart Medical Center in Spokane, Wash.
On Sept. 11, angler Nolan Calvin hauled in large lake trout on the west side of the lake. While cleaning the fish, Calvin discovered what appeared to be a human finger.
Calvin put the digit on ice and alerted sheriff’s officials, who confirmed it was indeed a human finger. Detective Gary Johnston said he was initially uneasy about the find, as it could have been evidence of an unreported drowning or perhaps a crime.
Detectives were able to discern sufficient ridge detail to lift a latent fingerprint and compared it to Galassi’s prints.
“It was in remarkably good shape,” Johnston said of the finger. “But it’s discolored from being detached without blood flow and everything.”
Detectives made a tentative match, which was then confirmed by the Idaho State Police Forensic Services Lab in Meridian.
“The case unfolded pretty quickly,” said Johnston.
Galassi, a 31-year-old from Colbert, Wash., was contacted by detectives and advised of the discovery. Johnston said Galassi appeared to find the development amusing, although he did not want the digit back since it could not be reattached.
Johnston said the find drew mixed reactions from his colleagues about whether they would want the appendage back if they were in Galassi’s shoes.
“It’s a 50-50 split in here. About half are going, ‘Yeah. I would take it back.’ And the other half are going, ‘Nah. I don’t want any part of that,’” he said.
The fish was found about eight miles north of where the wakeboarding accident occurred.
Jim Fredericks, Idaho Fish & Game’s Panhandle fisheries manager, was skeptical of the story until he learned of the positively matching fingerprints. He suspects the finger was lying on the bottom of the lake for weeks and was preserved by the cold water.
“Once consumed by the fish, I’d expect the digestive process would break it down — at least to the point where the fingerprints were unidentifiable — within a couple of days,” Fredericks said.
Johnston called the odds of catching the fish containing the finger “insurmountable.”
Fredericks said calculating the odds is difficult, but hazarded a guess.
Based on tagging studies, Fish & Game estimates that approximately 10 percent of lake trout in Priest Lake are caught by anglers in a given year, giving them a 1-in-10 chance of catching one. If the fish had indeed consumed the finger days before being caught, Fredericks said the chances are about 1-in-1,000.
“The hard part is figuring out the odds that a lake trout would find and eat the finger,” said Fredericks.