The search for the two women resumed Tuesday morning. Photo: Richmond Fire Dept.

Two Women Missing after James River Raft-up Goes Over Dam

A group of people on a float in the James River ended up in a very dangerous situation when they went over a dam. A dozen needed rescue, but two of them are still missing.

Henrico County Police say in the early afternoon on Memorial Day, a group of 12 had set out upriver on rafts and paddleboards. When reports came in that the group was in distress near Bosher’s Dam, emergency crews from Chesterfield and Henrico counties, along with the City of Richmond, rushed to the river. Bosher’s Dam is known as a low-head dam (or weir). There is a 12-foot drop off the dam, but low-head dams can be hard to spot as you approach from water level. Sometimes called “drowning machines”, these dams can create dangerous flow patterns on the downstream side of the dam, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers.

In this case, emergency crews ultimately helped 10 people out of the water.

But two women, Lauren E. Winstead, 23, of Henrico County, and Sarah E. Erway, 28, of Chesterfield County, were still missing. Crews, including those from Richmond and Henrico, searched for them until dusk on Monday and resumed their search at 7 a.m. Tuesday. Chesterfield, Hanover, and Goochland helped in the search.

On Sunday, a day before the incident, conditions were already extreme on the James River and Goochland Fire Rescue had made multiple rescues. In a Facebook post the agency writes, “With all the recent rain the river is running high and fast. Five people and a dog were rescued during two separate incidents this afternoon. Tubers and kayakers were swept into trees in the water known as strainers (the water moves through, while people and boats are trapped by the force of the water).”

Goochland didn’t mince words, concluding with, “We insist that anyone on the river this weekend wears a personal flotation device.”

Anyone with information about Winstead and Erway is asked to call Henrico Police at 804-501-5000. Bay Bulletin will continue to update this developing story.

-Meg Walburn Viviano