Suffolk man drowns in Chowan River

Published 10:14 am Tuesday, May 17, 2016

EURE – For the third consecutive May, the Chowan River near here has claimed a life.

The latest victim died Sunday afternoon when 36-year-old Thomas Wayne Holmes, 36, of Pughsville Road in Suffolk, VA drowned during a family outing.

Gates County Sheriff Ed Webb said the drowning occurred off Gatlington Beach, located off Sand Banks Road.

“From the information we gathered at the scene, Mr. Holmes was out with some family and friends who were fishing and swimming in the river,” Webb said. “At some point, Mr. Holmes jumped in the water and swam out to the middle of the river at which time he went under. The other people with him hollered at Mr. Holmes to return to the shore.

“It was then that Mr. Holmes appeared to be in distress,” the Sheriff continued. “He disappeared briefly underwater, but popped back up. He then went under a second time and did not resurface.”

Webb said his office was alerted to the situation at around 1:45 p.m. and the first responding unit was at the scene by 2 p.m.

Assisted by a sonar-equipped rescue boat from Hertford County EMS, Holmes body was pulled from 20 feet of water at around 5 p.m.

“We turned his body over to the North Carolina Medical Examiner’s office,” Webb said. “We’re unsure if Mr. Holmes suffered any type of medical condition that would have led to the drowning. We have information that he and others were drinking alcohol, but we don’t know if that played a role in this accident. The Medical Examiner’s report will include toxicology results and that will shed more light on this case.”

Webb said the water temperature was 71 degrees on Sunday.

“That may sound warm, but it’s not,” he said. “That’s the surface temperature. It’s colder than that below the surface. That fact may have led Mr. Holmes to suffer cramps, which could have led to his drowning. But that’s all unofficial. The Medical Examiner will have the final say.”

The Gates County Sheriff’s Office, Gates County Rescue and EMS, and Hertford County EMS were assisted at the scene by the North Carolina Wildlife Commission and the North Carolina Highway Patrol.

Sunday’s death on this particular stretch of the Chowan River was the fifth fatality in the month of May since 2014.

Last year, two boaters died when their vessel collided with another craft. In 2014, two local fishermen drowned off Gatlington Beach after the boat they were in capsized.

“We’ve lost five people in just three years, all right here within a mile to a mile and a half of one another,” Webb said. “I know people want to get out and enjoy the weather and have a good time, but I would encourage safety first.

“If you’re swimming in a body of water as big as the Chowan, make sure you’re physically fit to do so,” Webb stressed. “And if you’re at or on the water, always have life preservers and a first aid kit. And if you’re by yourself on the water, make sure you let someone know where you’re going and what time you can be expected home. Prepare yourself and your boat just in case something happens mechanically and you get stranded.”

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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