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Richmond woman rafting dies after being pulled from James River

Posted at 11:28 AM, May 03, 2023

RICHMOND, Va. — One of the two rafters rescued from the James River Tuesday afternoon has died of her injuries, according to Richmond Police.

Officials with the Richmond Fire Department said 26-year-old Leah Patterson of Richmond and her group were rafting on the Hollywood Rapids when their raft overturned.

Richmond Fire crews, who launched three water rescue boats into the river around 3:15 p.m., found Patterson in the water and another person caught on the rocks, officials said.

Both people were rescued from the river around 3:30 pm.

Crews began CPR on Patterson, who was transported to an area hospital where she later succumbed to her injuries.

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

Officials said the river was at about 7.5 feet on Tuesday, which is a level that requires everyone to wear life jackets.

It appears Patterson's group did follow safety precautions, according to officials.

“It was a little bit rougher river than probably folks were used to,” Richmond Fire Department Special Operations Assistant Chief Kevin Spool said. “It seemed like most of the things were followed there.”

Officials advise people going out onto the water to check signs near the river that offer safety recommendations.

Riverside Outfitters President Karl Schmidt remembered Patterson as someone who "brought joy and happiness to her friends, family and the community."

"The last 48hrs 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. Leah brought joy and happiness to her friends, family and the community. Public details regarding the river accident have been limited largely because those involved are grieving and need space right now," Schmidt wrote. "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. 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. Checking river water levels and exploring river safety resources made available through the James River Park System is a good starting point."

Anyone with information about the incident is asked to call Detective Sergeant J. Bridges at 804-646-8146.

This is a developing story, so anyone with more information can email newstips@wtvr.com to send a tip.

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