Police: Body recovered from James River ‘presumed’ to be second missing woman

Published: May. 31, 2022 at 7:40 PM EDT|Updated: Jun. 6, 2022 at 6:41 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - A week-long search has concluded after crews in Richmond have recovered the body presumed to be that of the other woman who went missing after a Memorial Day tubing incident in the James River.

At around 7:48 Monday morning, Richmond Emergency Communications received a call from a citizen reporting that a body had been spotted in the middle of the river 200 yards downstream of the Huguenot Bridge.

Henrico Police said they are confident that the body recovered is Sarah Erway, 28, of Chesterfield. Police hope this development, although devastating, can bring some closure to the families.

“The family is mourning...it’s a tragic incident...we as first responders extend our heartfelt condolences to the family and friends,” Henrico Police Lt. Matt Pecka said.

Last week, Erway, and Lauren Winstead, 23, went missing from Bosher Dam on the James River on Memorial Day.

On June 1, Richmond Fire Battalion Chief Robert Maass said a search boat found the body of Winstead near the Powhite Bridge.

As Chief Maass delivered the news of Lauren Winstead’s death, he became extremely emotional at one point, trying to hold it together.

“I can tell you it’s very difficult for our crews,” he said, holding back tears.

Twelve people were involved in the original incident at Bosher Dam, which happened around 3:15 p.m. on Memorial Day.

Officials said the group had plans to enter the river at Watkins Landing and travel more than five miles downriver to Robious Landing. Their tubes and inflatable rafts got caught up in the Bosher Dam.

Crews said 10 people were rescued, nine by civilian and first responder help, and one got themselves to safety.

The two families bonded together in the wake of the tragedy. According to social media posts from Sarah Erway’s mother, the sister of Lauren actually took the time to start a GoFundMe called ‘Help Find Sarah’ raising over $12,000.

She said in a Facebook post that the act of generosity and thoughtfulness brought her to tears.

Winnie Warner and her husband, Pastor Vander Warner, are longtime family friends of Sarah Erway and her parents.

They heard some details about the incident.

“She was on a board with just her paddle, but they were all tied together up the river, and Sarah is the one who said, ‘get back, get away,’” Winnie Warner said.

The Warners say the Erway family is distraught and devastated by this horrific situation.

“They will get through this. Her mother is broken right now,” Winnie Warner said. “We just held her and loved her. It’s love that gets you through this.”

Pastor Vander Warner says he has no emotions to describe it other than pure sadness.

“You’d think I’d know more, but let me tell you when something as tragic as this happens, the only thing you can do is just reach out and love and just be there and tell them we’re sorry,” Vander Warner said.

The Warners say Erway and Winstead are friends.

Lauren Winstead and Sarah Erway
Lauren Winstead and Sarah Erway(Henrico County Police Department)

Seventeen agencies, including the Department of Emergency Management, Richmond, Henrico, Hanover, Chesterfield, Goochland, and the U.S. Coast Guard, collaborated in the search for Erway and Winstead.

“The river is at high levels, moving very fast, dangerous levels,” Henrico Police Lt. Matt Pecka said.

Crews focused their efforts from Bosher Dam and all the way to the Powhite Parkway, but they couldn’t get too close to the dam.

Bosher Dam can be particularly hazardous because it creates “hydraulics,” or currents that push objects underwater and cycles them for hours, days, or even weeks until the water level changes.

“As you can see from Bosher’s Dam, the water is just a tremendous amount of force, and the safety is paramount here,” Pecka said. “It’s for everybody involved for our rescuers, first responders, the community, so there’s only been so close that we can get until the water levels do subside.”

Pecka says this is a search the public cannot participate in on the water.

“We’ve had numerous people step up wanting to participate in the search,” he said. “Again, our caution is everyone’s well-being, and we have to look out for that in the big picture.”

The Medical Examiner’s Office is working to determine the cause of death for both Winstead and Erway.

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