UPDATE: James River drowning victim identified

By Laura Geller - bio | email
Posted by Terry Alexander - email

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Wednesday night, a 40-year-old woman lost her life at the James River.

Around 7 p.m., the Fire Department Dive Squad was called to the Tredegar Street side of the river, near the Civil War Museum. That's where a man said he was swimming with a female friend who went under.

Richmond Police have identified the woman as Portia B. Smith, 40, of the 5400 block of Hackney Road in Richmond.

It is a call the fire department gets frequently during the summer months. Wednesday that call came in at 7 p.m. A man told 911 he was swimming with a female friend about 100 yards from shore, when she went under. Within thirty minutes of getting that call the dive squad was on the scene pulling the woman's body from the river.

They performed CPR but to no avail. She was pronounced dead at the scene and never transported to the hospital. At this point though, there are more questions than answers.

"Not really sure if she drowned or if she had some sort of medical condition. That's for the medical examiner to make that determination," said Richmond Fire Department Lt. Shawn Jones.

The friend did not indicate the woman had any sort of medical condition. Fire officials say it is standard protocol to examine all possibilities.

What we do know right now is that the victim was not wearing a life jacket. The river levels are below five feet, so it's not required, but again, we're told she did not actually know how to swim.

"There are hazards that are not seen by the visible eye, any time you observe the river from a distance but please, even as we have seen here in the last eight days, there are two people that have drowned or may have drowned in the river and the water level is not high," said Jones. "We always say that a life jacket or personal flotation device should be worn, even if it's not required."

We are still awaiting an identity. Right now the body is with the medical examiner who will perform an autopsy to determine the exact cause of death. 

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