Good-looking. Fun to party with. Totally unpredictable.
Despite a rainy start to the season and ongoing safety-education efforts, 2016 has seen no significant decline in the number of people rescued from the James River.
As of Aug. 29, the Richmond Fire Department has responded to 70 calls for service and rescued 46 people from the river this year.
“We do feel that the awareness of river safety is growing, but we still need people [who are] coming to the river to understand the dangers of it,” says Lt. Christopher Armstrong, public information officer for the Richmond Fire Department.
Many calls for service involve people who are injured by falling on rocks, Armstrong says. Others try to run the rapids on shoddy rafts or tubes that aren’t designed for white water. Often, he says, people go out on rocks early in the day and then are unable to return to shore — either because they’re intoxicated or frightened, or because the river has risen suddenly.
Armstrong recalls the dramatic rescue that took place June 25, when a mother and her two children got stranded on rocks near Belle Isle. Earlier storms upstream caused the river to swell, and by 2 p.m. “the river was rolling,” he says.
Two hours later, water levels approached 9 feet — and things “got real bad real quick.” The family was retrieved safely.
River users are required to wear life jackets when levels are higher than 5 feet. Once the river reaches 9 feet, no one can get in the water without a permit.
Signs at park entrances state the water levels and the rules. “But people just don’t pay attention to the signage,” Armstrong says.
Richmond police and fire officers operate bike patrols to educate river-goers and enforce the rules. “If it’s above 5 feet, and they don’t have a PFD,” Armstrong says, “we make them get out.”
Three river fatalities have been reported this year. But as Armstrong notes, deaths usually are unrelated to recreation.
In March, Amy Sue Briscoe drowned after being swept away. Briscoe, who was wanted in New York in connection with a meth-lab explosion, may have been living in a riverside camp, the Times-Dispatch reported.
In May, the remains of Ronda M. Moss, 48, were pulled from the river near the Mayo Bridge. The medical examiner is investigating the cause of death.
And on Saturday, a Richmond police officer saw a man jumping off the 14th Street Bridge in an apparent suicide. The man’s identity is unknown.