STREAM CROSSING STRUCTURE KILLS TEXAS PADDLER
Richland Creek near Corsicana, TX : June 13, 1992
DESCRIPTION: Richland Creek, the site of the annual Corsicana Spill Race, is a narrow, twisty stream with good current but few rapids. Three miles below Route 709 a gravel road traverses the creek on a concrete low-water crossing. The downstream side of this crossing is 5 feet high and slopes at a 45° angle. At low water the river flows through several pipes, but at high levels it goes over the top and acts like a low head dam. There is a bad hydraulic to be found here at certain water levels, and local rental operations have lost boats.
The victims, Dick Bowers, 52 and Ben Bowers, 27, had paddled and raced the river many times. On June 13, 1992 they were leading a group of nine people down the run. The livery operator added extra flotation to the canoes; everyone was wearing PFD's. They ran the fast moving flatwater upstream without incident, portaging several strainers. When they came to the crossing, a fisherman warned them not to run The drop. Several people portaged, but Dick had apparently run the drop safely during races and so the two decided to go for it.
The boat flipped in the hydraulic. Dick got out safely, but Ben was caught and "The backwash just kept pushing him under the waterfall". The group upstream sensed trouble and headed down to help just as Ben floated free. One man swam out and tried to pull him ashore, but rescue was very difficult. The river swept them against steep undercut banks; Ben was unconscious, and they were washed downstream for some distance. Upstream, Dick had apparently jumped back into the hydraulic to save his son and been caught in the recirculation. One member of his group got a length of rope, tied it to a PFD, and threw it out to him. He did not grab hold.
Someone, probably the fishermen, drove to a nearby house and called 911. Within minutes the area was overrun with rescue squads. By this time Dick was rolling in the hydraulic "like a barrel". A rescuer tethered to several lines was able to wade out into the river and pull him to shore. When they got Dick out, they found that his pants had been pulled down around his ankles. This explains why he couldn't get his footing! They detected a faint pulse, started CPR, and took him to a hospital. The rescue squads then lowered ropes over the steep banks to pull Ben and his rescuer up. They found a good pulse, so they started CPR and transported him to the hospital by helicopter. Both men were dead on arrival.
SOURCE: Dallas Downriver Club Newsletter sent by Betsy Baker
ANALYSIS: These "low water crossings" have been responsible for a number of deaths in Texas and elsewhere, and should be treated like low-head dams! The two Bowers' mistake was in not scouting a blind drop, and in failing to recognize the potential for a dangerous hydraulic below.