River rescue a matter of right place, right time
“I like to think anyone would have done it,” Sheriff John Alkire says, looking back on the unexpected events of June 6.
“If I wouldn’t have jumped in first, he would have gone in,” he said of his brother-in-law, Scott Staley. “It’s just the way it worked out.”
But Alkire was first into the South Branch that evening after he and his extended family heard cries of help coming from the river.
Bobbing up and down in the middle of the river was Romney resident Clinton Bowman.
Alkire dived in and swam to the man, guiding them downstream to firm footing.
But Bowman wasn’t alone. His girlfriend, Teresa Ohler, and her 2 best friends, Stephanie White and Selena White, had been on the 6-person inflatable round raft with him when it capsized.
Over the next minutes, Alkire, Staley and their family helped each of them get back on dry land.
“I didn’t even know who they were,” Stephanie said afterward. “I am super grateful to them. I don’t know had they not been there what would have happened to us.”
What ended as near tragedy began as a great expedition on a bright day with a quickly moving river after rains the day before.
Stephanie White went from her home in Kitzmiller, Md., on the North Branch, to Morgantown to buy the ill-fated raft. Then she and Selena, from nearby Oakland, headed to Romney for a day on the river with Clinton and Teresa.
They put in across from Hampshire Park and were going to float to the Romney Bridge. But the river was running quickly enough that they decided to keep going to a camp that Teresa’s family had near the John Blue Bridge.
“It was so nice we were just going to keep on floating,” Stephanie said. “We knew there were other places we could get out.”
Clinton said they considered getting out at Hanging Rock, but kept going, passing beneath the train trestle.
“Right before the river splits, you can go left or right,” Clinton recalled. “We went right and we probably should have gone left.”
The river was flowing hard and they took to their paddles.
“We couldn’t control that,” Stephanie said. “Our raft was sucked underneath of the abutment.”
It hit a tree stuck against a barrier,” Clinton said, instantly making the raft go flat.
“Stephanie and her friend were up front and grabbed a tree,” he said. “It threw my girlfriend and I off the back.”
The current held him under the flipped-over tube for maybe a minute.
“It took a lot of my energy away, bobbing up and down and I’m a decent swimmer,” Clinton said.
Clinton and Teresa were swept by the camp where Alkire and his family were.
Stephanie said that as the raft came loose from the log she jumped back in to try to catch up to the others.
One by one each of the floaters was helped to land, minus some shoes and other belongings.
A waterproof pack with cellphones ended up at a campsite across the river. Downriver they found a couple of their shoes.
The foursome made their way to Bowman’s Sunrise Summit home and Alkire and the Staleys wound up their day by the river.
“We were in the right place at the right time,” Alkire said. “That’s essentially what it was. Anyone would have done that.”
Bowman says they’ll go back on the river again, but maybe on a day it’s running slower.
“Next time that it’s up, we’ll probably be smarter and take a couple of life jackets” Clint said. “We can all swim, but if you hit one of those rock barriers head on, it don’t matter how good a swimmer you are.”