River claimed multiple lives

January 2, 2019

BULLHEAD CITY — It was a deadly summer on the Colorado River.

At least 12 people died on the river or at its nearby lakes during 2018 with 10 of the deaths coming during the defined “summer season” from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Deaths were reported in the Tri-state on each of the summer’s three holidays — Memorial Day, Independence Day and Labor Day.

Four people were killed in a crash of two boats on the river between Topock Marsh and Pirate’s Cove south of Needles. The body of Raegan Heitzig, 26, still has not been recovered following the crash that turned a Labor Day Weekend celebration into a regional tragedy.

The bodies of California residents Christine Lewis, 51; Brian Grabowski, 50; and Kirra Drury, 24, were recovered in the days following the nighttime collision that sent 16 boaters into the water. The Mohave County Sheriff’s Office still is investigating the crash — and still actively searching for Heitzig’s body, according to MCSO spokeswoman Anita Mortensen.

Twelve boaters escaped with injuries that ranged from minor to major; some were pulled to safety by other boaters in the river on a busy holiday weekend while others

managed to swim to shore. According to the sheriff’s office, none were wearing life jackets.

Search teams from several local, state and federal agencies scoured the river in the days and weeks following the crash. Lewis’ body was found near the crash site more than 24 hours after the collision. Grabowski and Drury were found the following day, miles apart.

“It is our deepest desire to provide a measure of closure for the family and all involved,” Mohave County Sheriff Doug Schuster said as the search for Heitzig intensified and expanded in the week following the crash. Sadly, no closure has been reached.

“Search efforts remain ongoing,” read a common post on the county’s Search and Rescue Facebook page.

Those efforts included a search in and around Lake Havasu, miles from the crash site.

Mortensen said earlier this month that search efforts have been scaled back but are continuing.

The boat crash — and a drowning at Lake Mead over the Labor Day weekend — brought an end to the deadly summer that included four drownings in a two-week span from late May to mid-June.

While all were tragic, the death of 7-year-old Jeremy Duncan was particularly heart-wrenching.

Duncan, an autistic, non-verbal child, wandered away from his home on a Saturday morning in June, triggering a frantic search as hundreds of people combed Bullhead City neighborhoods hoping to find the boy. The search — and hopes for a happy resolution — ended less than 24 hours later when a kayaker spotted what turned out to be the boy’s body in the river near Palo Verde Marina.

“The Police Department and the community’s heart was broken,” said Bullhead City Chief of Police Brian Williamson, who oversaw the search efforts. “This is not, of course, how we wanted this to end.”

“Hope was replaced this morning by shock and sadness over the discovery of Jeremy’s lifeless body,” added Schuster, who also provided manpower for the search that included representatives of numerous public safety agencies as well as hundreds of community volunteers.

The turnout and efforts — albeit in vain — were remarkable.

“I can’t believe how warm and generous our community is,” said a moved Bullhead City Mayor Tom Brady.

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