Families of women who drowned in James River change safety measures

Published: May. 19, 2023 at 11:09 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - The family members of two women who drowned in the James River last Memorial Day have helped change safety around the water.

“In the blink of an eye, ten people and a therapy dog were traumatized, and two promising women were gone forever,” Christina Brockwell, the mother of Lauren Winstead, said.

Winstead and Sarah Erway were killed when they went over Bosher’s Dam while on the river with friends.

Almost a year later, Brockwell still recalls when first responders told her that her daughter had gone missing on the river.

“Somehow, I had known that the river had claimed her life. Lauren was found two days later and Sarah a week later,” Brockwell said.

Brockwell says the water levels were high, but the group did not see any signage or warnings about the condition of the river.

“When putting in at Watkins that day, they would not find a sign indicating that 8 miles downstream there was a deadly dam,” Brockwell said. “Not even a sign showing the water marker was high.”

She also says the dam was not located on some online maps.

“Pre-trip planning would most likely find them at the James River explorer map,” Brockwell said. “An online map that at the time did not clearly mark Bosher’s Dam.”

Over the last 12 months, Brockwell has worked with the city to change and add signs around the river.

Not just about river conditions but the potential hazard of a dam.

“In grief, we started to wonder how can we affect change to prevent another tragedy like this,” Brockwell said. “If change could save one life, it would certainly be worth the effort.”

They’ve also worked to ensure Bosher’s Dam is located on online maps of the James.

This incident has also prompted the city to acquire a new water rescue tool.

“The city of Richmond will purchase our very own creature craft,” Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney said.

The vessel will be on the water this summer, allowing first responders to move better through rapids or near dams when a rescue is needed.

“To anyone who has lost someone on this river, know our hearts go out to you,” Brockwell said. We all want to enjoy the river and its beauty, but we do have to put safety first.”