James Abromitis, R.I.P.: Man's Death Captured in Video Paper Isn't Publishing

It isn't often that a news organization has a huge scoop on video but chooses not to publish it out of principle and compassion.

But that's precisely the decision made by the Aspen Times in regard to footage shot by staff photographer Jeremy Wallace during a rafting trip that ended in the death of James Abromitis, a 58-year-old man from Maryland, near a section of the Roaring Fork River with the ominous name Slaughterhouse Falls.

This incident is only the latest drowning to take place this season in Colorado. Among others who've lost their lives to date are Colorado Mesa University football player Austin Worbington and two young brothers, Jacob and Daniel Foreman.

The introduction to the article about the incident notes: "The Aspen Times has chosen not to publish any of the footage on out of respect for the family."

The account of the accident from the Pitkin County Sheriff's Office notes that a 911 call was placed at 11:08 a.m. — by Wallace, it turns out — about "rafters in distress down river from Stein Park on the Roaring Fork River."

At the same time, a ranger with Pitkin County Open Space alerted colleagues about an "overturned raft with two people in the river and CPR in progress on an individual on the bank."

Rescue personnel quickly arrived at the scene and took over the resuscitation efforts on the man in question, later identified as Abromitis. But he didn't respond and was subsequently pronounced dead.

The sheriff's office points out that the circumstances of Abromitis's death remain under investigation — and no doubt the video, which Wallace was shooting with a GoPro camera for use on the Times' website, will be instrumental in bringing the tragic case to a conclusion.

In the Times article, Wallace says he spoke with Abromitis and his wife before the raft — a craft used by a company called Aspen Whitewater Rafting — went into the water. They were in Aspen for an event called the Food & Wine Classic.

But only five minutes after the Abromitises, Wallace and four others — described as a younger couple, an older man and the raft guide — hit the river alongside a kayaker serving as a so-called safety boat, the raft hit a hole and Abromitis entered the water and was seen floating by.

After a considerable struggle owing to the roughness of the waters, Wallace and the other man got Abromitis back into the raft. But seconds later, the raft hit a log and Abromitis fell overboard again, along with his wife and the older man.

Shortly thereafter, the raft got stuck. As soon as they got it loose, the guides raced to assist Abromitis, who they pulled from the water. But their efforts were unsuccessful.

In a statement shared with the Times, Aspen Whitewater Rafting owner Jim Ingram wrote: “The safety of our guests is our company’s No. 1 priority, and we’ve had an outstanding safety record since our inception in 2004. Our guides are some of the most experienced in the state. Besides having thousands of hours of on-the-water training, our guides are also trained in swiftwater rescue, first aid and CPR. The man guiding the raft today has 23 years of rafting experience in locations throughout the United States, and the safety kayaker has 15 years of experience both whitewater rafting and kayaking.”

In its release, the sheriff's office stresses that "all rivers in Pitkin County have very high water due to snow-melt and runoff. Please use extreme caution while in and around rivers and lakes during these times of high water."

Our sincere condolences to the friends, family and loved ones of James Abromitis — and a salute to the Times for putting him ahead of a potential page-view bonanza.

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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