James river search and rescue for man called off

By Gene Petriello - bio | email

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) -- For hours, state and local rescuers searched the James River for a homeless man, who was reportedly wading in the water with another friend. One of the men did not return. That's when the other friend ran up to a convenience store and called 911 around 2:15 Thursday morning.

The search was in the area near Dock and 26th streets at Great Shiplock Park.

For nearly two hours, crews searched for the homeless man by air and by water. The State Police helicopter used its heat sensing device to see if there was anybody in the water. Other rescuers also went into the river and walked the area near where the man reportedly went into the water. Both searches turned up empty.

Right now, investigators are not sure if the missing man is actually lost in the James River, or if the missing man got out safely.

The two men, actually have a tent living area set up near the area where they were wading. They were forced out of those tents earlier this week because of the rising water levels. For some reason, they decided to return last night to the tent area and began wading in the water.

As this moves forward, investigators are working to determine if the missing homeless man was actually in the water, or if he got out safely.

"We stopped on the bridge earlier and looked at the current and that current is strong enough to take an elephant under right now," says Stacey Wilbourne who saw the river search as it happened.

The warning signs are up and the warning from the fire department is stern.

"If you are going out just to take a dip, please, wait til the levels go down," says Lt. Shawn Jones with Richmond Fire and Rescue.

In fact, it's illegal to be in the water if it's over 9 feet high, unless you have a high water permit.

The area where the 2 homeless men were, appeared to be calm. But, looks can be deceiving.

"The current may look like it's still, but I'm sure at some time, the current is moving.

"If anybody is getting in the water right now, they're just crazy, it's ridiculous," says Wilbourne.

For more information about getting a high-water permit, contact Fire Station 1 at 646-4229.

Richmond Detectives are working at this hour to determine just what happened this morning with the two homeless men.

We checked with State Police and they tell us it cost about $1,500 for the two choppers to fly this morning with the heat seeking device. Those devices found nothing.

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