Eagle County coroner determines causes of death in Ride the Rockies accident, Roaring Fork drowning

By Real Vail
Real AspenJune 15, 2011
The coroner has determined the causes of death in two separate incidents that occurred in Eagle County on Sunday and Monday.

An autopsy performed on Jim Deblois, a Ride the Rockies participant who died on Monday, revealed the cause of death as blunt force trauma to the head and chest, according to Eagle County Coroner Kara Bettis.

The injuries were most likely sustained during a bike crash, although there were no witnesses. The 67-year-old Cape Girardeau, Mo. man was found on U.S. Highway 24 just outside of Minturn on the descent from Tennessee Pass.

Bettis has ruled the manner of death as an accident.

Autopsy results on Thomas Nead Vermilyea revealed drowning was the cause of death for the 62-year-old man. Bettis said no one saw Vermilyea enter the water, so the manner of death is undetermined.

Vermilyea was found in the Roaring Fork River on Sunday and was last known to reside in Basalt. His name was spelled incorrectly in a previous Eagle County press release.

On Tuesday, Eagle County issued the following release warning residents and visitors to exercise extreme caution during the current runoff season:

This is the time of year when rivers and streams are running high and fast, and pastimes such as rafting, kayaking and float trips are in full force. The abundant snow received this past winter is finally melting and the resulting runoff has significantly raised the water volume.

Local swift water rescue teams throughout the Eagle Valley are called on to respond to numerous river rescue calls each week, according to Julie Anderson, a supervisor for the Vail Public Safety Communications Center which provides emergency dispatch services for 14 area agencies. Emergency responders from throughout the county are joining Anderson in encouraging the safe and responsible use of area waterways this summer.

For example, if boating or kayaking, please label all of your equipment with your contact information. If you become separated from your boat, kayak, raft, or personal equipment, immediately contact the Vail Public Safety Communications Center at 970-479-2201 or 911 to make a report. Let them know that you are safe and out of the water, and provide a description and the last known location of your missing equipment. Any unattended belongings that are unaccounted for could potentially initiate a lengthy, unnecessary victim search.

The following safety tips are offered by Darryl Bangert of Sage Outdoor Adventures, a professional guide with 36 years experience:

A swimmer in our cold rivers without any gear has less than a minute to self rescue. Therefore, if you fall in the water from shore:

Immediately swim to the shore as aggressively as you can. Do not stop swimming until you are touching the bank, then stand up and get out of the water completely.

If you see someone fall into a river or stream:

Do not jump in to try to save the victim.
Immediately call 9-1-1.
Give accurate information regarding where the victim was last seen, where they fell in, what they were wearing, etc.
Run along the shore keeping up with the swimmer and encourage the swimmer to actively swim to shore.

For boaters, all rafters and kayakers must have with them:

Personal Flotation Device.
Warm gear such as wetsuits, splashtops and insulating layers.
You must be prepared for a swim in 40 to 50 degree water regardless of air temperature.

If you fall out of a boat:

Even with all the right warm gear, you still have less than 3-4 minutes to get to shore. A good drysuit will extend that time significantly.
Immediately look for the raft and swim back to the boat with your feet up.
Never stand in fast moving water over ankle deep.
If you cannot get back to the boat, then immediately start swimming to closest shore.
If you are in big waves, keep your feet up and downstream, timing your breaths.
Push off any rocks with those downstream feet.
Then as soon as possible, swim to shore and do not stop until you are touching the bank.
Once out of the water, stay close to the river so others of your party can find you.
If you are separated from your party, both Gore Creek and the Eagle River are very close to highways for additional assistance and to alert 911.

Swift water awareness
Bangert encourages parents to talk to their children about the river. Instead of preaching fear to the children, teach them about the river, he says. Kids are curious, so teach them the answers to the questions they have. How fast? How cold? Throw a stick and see if they can keep up with the moving stick at a good distance from the river. You want them to respect the water and understand how moving water would affect them if they were in it. Then, when you're not with them and their friends, they'll choose to be safe instead of experimenting to learn on their own.

For additional information, contact your local police or fire department.

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