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'Heroic' mother credited for Richmond's push to improve James River safety after daughter's death

Brockwell: 'If change could even save one life, it would certainly be worth the effort'
Christina Winstead Brockwell
Posted at 11:53 PM, May 19, 2023

RICHMOND, Va. -- Richmond leaders are calling the mother of a woman who died on the James River a hero for pushing for safety improvements on the river.

“If change could even save one life, it would certainly be worth the effort," Christina Winstead Brockwell said.

Sarah Erway and Lauren Winstead
Sarah Erway and Lauren Winstead

Her daughter, 23-year-old Lauren Winstead, and 28-year-old Sarah Erway never resurfaced on the James after encountering the Bosher Dam last Memorial Day.

The women were with a larger group of friends when they went over the dam. Friends said they had attempted to get off the river earlier in the trip, but the current was too strong and carried the friends over the dam. The rest of the group survived.

“Something nicknamed a drowning machine killed our girls," she said.

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Brockwell said the group her daughter was said they saw no signs 8 miles downstream that there was a deadly dam. They also said pre-planning resources they had searched online did not indicate the level of threat their route may have.

Since then Brockwell has pushed city leaders along with leaders of other jurisdictions to come together to make major changes.

During a news conference Friday afternoon at Pony Pasture, city leaders lauded Brockwell for moving mountains in such a short time.

Between the city and other organizations, more than $125,000 have been invested to make changes, including increased and diversified signage, updated maps to clearly mark dangers as well as a host of new resources to help better educate rivergoers.

The city also announced they will purchase a specialty recovery device that will allow first responders to get closer to the dam.

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“You could have given up a lot of people do when met with a tragedy," Mayor Levar Stoney said. "But you fought and continue to do, so thank you."

Brockwell thanked the community and city for listening and making the changes in hopes of saving more lives.

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City leaders and Brockwell said the new efforts are just the start of their commitment to increase river safety and education. 

Officials encourage inexperienced rivergoers to utilize different outfitters that are experienced on the James. They also encouraged everyone to educate themselves before they float, always wear personal flotation devices, shoes and check for water levels and signage.

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