Missing Woman's Body Recovered, Rafting Season Fatality Count at Six

A family photo of the late Roberta Sophia Rodriguez.
A family photo of the late Roberta Sophia Rodriguez. Mineral County Sheriff's Office
In "How to Survive (and Enjoy) Potentially Dangerous Rafting Season," Colorado Parks and Wildlife's Jason Clay underscored the risks involved in recreating on the state's rivers amid runoff from a snowpack more than 600 percent above the median. That story was published early June 20.

By the end of the next day, three more people had died in separate river accidents. And now, the body of Colorado Springs's Roberta Sophia Rodriguez, who fell into the Rio Grande River earlier this month, has been recovered, bringing the fatality total for the season to six.

"On the evening of June 15, 2019, Mineral County responded to a call that a female fell into the south fork of the Rio Grande river," a release from the Mineral County Sheriff's Office reads. "After ten days of searching, the body of Roberta Sophia Rodriguez was recovered from the south fork of the Rio Grande river at approximately 10:45 AM, June 25, 2019 by Mineral County Search and Rescue, Archuleta County Search and Rescue and the Rio Grande Forest Service."

The notice concludes: "Our hearts are with the family and friends of Roberta during this difficult time."

Fast and full rivers, creeks and streams, plus lakes and reservoirs at or near capacity, are attracting large numbers of people from within and outside the state — and unfortunately, these conditions have contributed to a significant number of accidents. Earlier this month, a Texas man on a Boy Scouts trip drowned in the Arkansas River, and Russia's Nikolay Pezhemskiy lost his life when his raft flipped on the Eagle River.

In addition, six Dolores River tubers had to be rescued, and last week CPW put out an alert about the use of personal flotation devices after rangers were barely able to save a man who wasn't wearing one when he fell off his paddle board at Ridgway State Park on June 13.

While the CPW doesn't want folks to stay away from state waters entirely, the agency urges everyone to understand that caution is an absolute must under these conditions.

"There's going to be an enhanced excitement for those folks who like water sports and the adrenaline that comes with them," Clay told us. "And we're not saying don't go out, don't give it a try or experience it. We're saying plan ahead and know what you could be getting into, because a lot of potential dangers could be present because of fast-moving waters."

Among Clay's suggestions was that individuals without a great deal of rafting experience consider signing up for a trip with a professional service. But even that approach can be dicey right now. Around 10:30 a.m. on June 20, authorities with the Pagosa Fire Protection District were reportedly notified of a rafting accident on the San Juan River north of Pagosa Springs during which a woman on a commercial trip wound up in the water after the raft she was on flipped. Rescuers caught up to her after fifteen to twenty minutes, but even though she was wearing a personal flotation device and a helmet, in keeping with safety suggestions by Clay, she could not be revived.

Regarding Rodriguez, the Mineral County Sheriff's Office posted the following video to give an indication of how rapidly the waters are running near where she fell into the Rio Grande.

As for what took place on June 21, the Gunnison County Sheriff's Office reports that authorities received a call at 11:15 a.m. requesting a "swift-water rescue" of a 31-year-old woman who'd been attempting to paddle-board down the river. She's said to have lost control of the board shortly after entering the river and then got hung up on a tree that was in the water.

The victim was quickly recovered and flown to a hospital in Grand Junction, but she did not respond to treatment.

Less than three hours later, at 2:10 p.m. on June 21, another emergency call came in to the GCSO. This time, a representative of the National Parks Service revealed that personnel had located the victim of an apparent kayaking accident — a 65-year-old woman who'd gone into the water earlier that morning. This woman, too, did not survive.

The early death toll calls to mind the tragic summer of 2017, when at least fifteen people died at Colorado water attractions. In an attempt to prevent more incidents of this type, the Eagle County Sheriff's Office shared a list of tips that echoes many offered by Clay.

• Wear your life jacket and proper headgear! It's always possible to capsize in any water condition.

• Assure that your water craft was intended for white water travel and understand the capabilities and limitations of the raft, kayak, or other equipment that you are using.

• Know the water conditions. Conditions can be very different from day to day and it’s important to know what to expect. If in doubt, get out and scout!

• Beware of Strainers. Strainers are fallen trees, bridge pilings, undercut rocks or anything else that allows the current to flow through it while holding you. Strainers are deadly!

• Carry identification that includes your name, phone number, pertinent medical information and emergency contact information in a waterproof bag. You can also store your cell phone and camera in the bag. Equipment should be labeled with a name and phone number to make it easier to return lost and stolen equipment.

• Before you leave, make sure you know where you are going. It is also a good idea to tell a responsible person about your plans of where you will be and when you expect to return.

• If it is your first time on the water, take an on-water course or travel with an experienced person that has navigated that part of the river before. Avoid water conditions beyond your skill level.

• Check the weather forecast before you leave for your destination so that you can pack the proper equipment. Dress appropriately for weather conditions. Carry extra clothes in a dry bag in case you flip and go for a swim. Hypothermia can be deadly.

• Never go boating or tubing while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Make sure you bring drinking water and stay hydrated.

• Plan for emergencies and carry basic first aid. Learn rescue skills necessary to assist others.

A GoFundMe page has been set up to create a memorial fund for Roberta Sophia Rodriguez. Click for more details.

Update: This post was updated at 5:30 a.m. June 26 with information about the recovery of Roberta Sophia Rodriguez's body and at 8:30 a.m. June 27 to add the GoFundMe link above.
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts