Accident Database

Report ID# 1053

  • Pinned in Boat Against Strainer
  • Does not Apply
  • Cold Water
  • High Water

Accident Description

At high levels Hollywood Rapid requires a strong left-to-right line to avoid trouble. Karen apparently missed Washing Machine but hit another hole, just downstream, which forms at high water. She spun out, and flipped, rolled, then flipped again. She then washed into a big debris pile just downstream that becomes a problem at higher levels. Her group was strong and responded quickly, but there was nothing they could do. About 10 minutes later her boat and PFD floated free. Firefighters recovered her body 2 hours later. This is the same spot that claimed the life of Garland Reese, another strong local paddler, during a high-water run. Sources: Mike Aronoff; Glen Chalkey

Kayaker drowned in James River


Saturday, January 21, 2006

An experienced kayaker who was part of a group navigating the rapids of the James River in Richmond today capsized and drowned, officials said. The death occurred about 11:30 a.m. as a group of six or eight kayakers approached the western tip of Belle Isle in preparation to navigate the Hollywood Rapids. Richmond Fire Lt. Mark Rada said the kayakers had put in around Reedy Creek and had just paddled past Dead Head Rock when the victim's kayak overturned. The victim, a woman whose identity was not released pending notification of relatives, tried to right herself, but during the struggle, her kayak got off line, group members told police and firefighters. The swift current carried the woman underneath a large pile of logs and debris right above the rapids, sucking her and her kayak underwater. Members of the group paddled to the pile and frantically tried to locate her under the debris.

Somebody called 911. Within minutes, the Richmond Fire Department's water rescue unit responded, and a Virginia State Police helicopter circled overhead. About 10 minutes after the woman went under, her kayak popped to the surface along with an empty lifejacket. Rescuers searched the pile and areas down the river. Her body was found two hours later beneath the rapids. Police tonight said the victim was believed to be about 50 years old and had more than 20 years experience on the river as a kayaker and instructor. The river was high today, just under 9 feet, but not considered too high for professional and experienced kayakers such as the victim. Paddlers are required to obtain permits for river use once the level rises to 9 feet. Contact staff writer Jim Nolan at or (804) 649-6061.

This story can be found at:

Non-Witness Narrative: For those of you who have not heard I'm terribly sorry to pass along the news of the loss of stalwart James River Outdoor Coalition member Karen Abse. Karen was kayaking and was caught in the tree strainer at the base of Hollywood rapid today around 11 am. Her body was recovered a couple of hours later. A huge number of people assisted to try to rescue her. Many put forth heroic rescue attempts. To all, thank you for your efforts. Many of us are in shock and will take time to fully understand this loss. Karen was a vibrant member of our outdoor community, energetic and easy going, and yet rock solid to the core.

I can say a lot but will say little here. We will gather tomorrow at thenew takeout at noon to talk openly of our loss, her spirit, and of ourdesire to preserve her memory. The river gives so much, sometimes the river takes away. I believe it has always been that way.

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