RVA paddling community stunned at loss of experienced rafter who provided 'happiness and joy'

Posted at 6:04 PM, May 04, 2023

RICHMOND, Va. -- In the 48 hours since an experienced rafter lost her life on the James River, those connected to the Richmond paddling community remain in deep grief.

Leah Patterson, 26, "brought joy and happiness to her friends, family and the community," said Karl Schmidt the President of Riverside Outfitters.

"The last 48 hours have been difficult for Richmond's paddling community. Richmond's paddling community is a tight knit group and the loss of Leah Patterson is tragic," Schmidt said.

Tuesday, Patterson and group of experienced rafters were on the James Rivernear the Hollywood Rapids when their raft overturned. Patterson and another person were pulled from the river around 03:30pm Tuesday.

James River

Rescue crews administered CPR to Patterson, but she died at a local hospital later that day.

"Public details regarding the river accident have been limited largely because those involved are grieving and need space right now," Schmidt said. "The accident that occurred and resulted in Leah's passing on May 2nd was a non-commercial private boating accident involving skilled paddlers who were paddling within their ability level. More accident details may surface overtime, but we don't need to know those exact details in order to support Leah's family and friends."

Richmond fire officials said the river was above 7-feet on Tuesday, which would require wearing a life jacket. Officials said the rafters took proper safety precautions.

James River

Schmidt said as the community continues to grieve, those wishing to enjoy the powerful beauty the James offers should make sure they arm themselves with information.

"There is joy and magic in the whitewater of the James, and when those feelings are punctuated by a tragic accident like this it can be hard to pivot back, but it's important that we do. Those looking to take action can start by seeking river safety and education resources," he said.

The other person rescued from the river and the others in group are OK, according to the officials.

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