Nationally 25% of drowning deaths happen in water 3 feet or less

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - The medical examiner is looking into what killed a woman whose body was found floating in the James River.

Police say Ashley Nicole Wallace was found in the river Monday night. Her body was found in two feet of water at the west end of Brown's Island. Investigators don't believe foul play had anything to do with it. Her death remains under investigation.

We checked, and it turns out, it's actually not that uncommon for people to drown in shallow water. According to statistics we found, 25% of drowning deaths nationwide happen in water that's only 3 feet or less. Richmond emergency crews say that's on target with what they see locally, and here it's the river that can be especially dangerous.

As Labor Day and the unofficial end of summer approaches, many people are spending time at the river while it's still warm and before school starts. It's a pastime that has Richmond emergency workers on high alert. Monday evening, a woman's body was pulled from the river in just two feet of water.

"It's not unusual at all; the fact of the matter is, we always think when the water level is high, that's when we have the most drowning deaths, when in fact that's not necessarily true.  Often times when it's less than 3 feet is when we have the most number of drowning deaths, 30 percent or more," said Lt. Shawn Jones.

Lt. Shawn Jones with the Richmond Fire Department says that includes both children and adults and the drowning deaths can result from a variety of factors. In the river, it's mostly uncertainty.

"You think 2 feet, 3 feet should be enough for people to stand up in, but if you come to the river, you know that it's so uneven. The rocks are uneven; there's dips and falls and everything. You can walk out there and be up to your ankles in water, then you take two more steps, and you are down to your waist," said Jones.

Jones says a woman drowned last year around this time when the river level was below 5 feet. She couldn't swim: something that may factor in to a number of shallow drowning deaths.

"They have that false sense of security that I can walk out into the water and just go out there, even though I can't swim, and just go out there and have a good old time," Jones explained.

Emergency workers recommend a buddy system even if you can swim, that way if you slip and fall, someone is there to call for help. When the river is above 5 feet, you are required to wear a life jacket, but emergency workers say wear one all the time if you can't swim.

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