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Accident Description


Health problems caused a manageable situation to get out of control. Garland Reece, former president of the Coastal Canoeists and the good friend of many Mid-States paddlers, drowned on the James River "breaks" through Richmond, Virginia. Reece, 48, was a solid paddler who was very familiar with this stretch. Although it was running high at 10 feet (20,000 cfs+), he had made the run often at this and significantly higher flows. He'd been battling Hepatitis C for some time, and the drug regimen left him depleted. He had good days and bad days, depending on how the drugs were affecting him.

On March 23rd he felt better, so he joined a large group of 10-15 paddlers at the put-in. Bernie Farmer, the current president of the Coastal Canoeists, joined several others in describing what happened next. Reece flipped in the first turn below First Break, and uncharacteristically exited after four or five roll attempts. A boater tried to tow him and his boat to shore, and some observers believe that they could have gotten Reece to safety if he had let go of his gear. But this did not happen until the pair was at the lip of Hollywood Rapids. Here Reece released his hold on his boat, then let go of his rescuer.

He flushed through Hollywood Rapid and towards the shore of Belle Island where he washed under a debris pile. He was held for under a minute or so before flushing out. Boaters downstream grabbed him, pulled his head up, and paddled him towards shore. They were met by a human chain that lifted him from the river and began CPR. Soon afterwards a fire captain arrived and took over the resuscitation efforts. An ambulance arrived ten minutes later, and took Reece to a nearby hospital. He never revived and was pronounced dead.

It's clear that Reece's physical condition contributed to this accident, and this is something that could happen to any of us. We all want to be on the river with our friends, and remember all too well what we could do easily when we are well. When you are thinking of paddling but are feeling sub-par, remember what happened here.

CW