Body of 5th victim recovered weeks after family tubing on NC river plunged over dam

EDEN, N.C. — The body of the final victim of a June 16 tubing accident on the Dan River was recovered Monday afternoon, officials in Rockingham County, North Carolina, confirmed.

The Rockingham County Sheriff’s Office said in a news release that during recovery efforts for missing tuber Teresa Villano, 35, authorities found her body around 4 p.m. near the Draper Boat Landing in the Dan River.

The body of a fourth tuber, 7-year-old Isiah Crawford, had been found June 20, following several days of search and recovery efforts, officials said.

Monday’s discovery came nearly three weeks after nine family members between the ages of 7 and 35 who were floating on inflatable tubes near the Duke Energy Power Plant plunged over the 8-foot dam near Duke Energy’s Dan River Steam Station. Only four of the tubers survived, including 18-year-old Irena Villano; her father, 35-year-old Ruben Villano; Ruben’s 14-year-old son, Eric Villano; and 14-year-old relative Karlos Villano of La Porte, Indiana.

A group of nine people were floating down the river on inflatable tubes when they went over a dam on June 16. Four people were rescued the day after, while three tubers’ bodies were found that day.

The group went over a dam that’s about 8 feet high next to a Duke Energy plant. Boating experts told The News & Record that such low-head dams are notorious for trapping people in the powerful current that churns at their base.

Dan Riverkeeper Steven Pulliam of Stoneville told The News & Record in Greenville that he wonders if recent rains created mud that obscured a portage area where boaters and tubers can exit and walk around the dam’s powerful currents.

“As we conclude search and rescue efforts today, we feel confident that we have exhausted all efforts to rescue, or recover, the two remaining victims from Wednesday’s tubing incident that occurred on the Dan River. At this point we will suspend all search, rescue and recovery efforts,” the sheriff’s office posted on Facebook Saturday.

Rockingham County Sheriff Sam Page asked for prayers for family members.

“Say a prayer for these families, because they lost somebody,” Page told Channel 9 Friday.

The five tubers were part of a group of nine people total who went tubing on the Dan River Wednesday evening, according to the Rockingham County Sheriff’s Office

Deputies believe they were initially tied together, but came apart before floating over a Duke Energy dam located near a local power plant on Wednesday, authorities said.

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“I can’t imagine going over the dam,” Page said.

Authorities got the first 911 call 18 hours later.

Four people who were “hanging on to various items” were spotted by an employee at the Duke Energy plant and rescued from the river at around 3:30 p.m. Thursday, Lt. Kevin Suthard, a spokesperson for the Rockingham County Sheriff’s Office, told ABC Radio.

Rueben Villino, 35, his daughter, Irene Villino, 18, his son Eric Villino, 14, all from Eden, and Karlos Villino, 14, of LaPorte, Indiana, were rescued.

They were sent to a hospital for treatment, he said. They are expected to recover.

The bodies of Bridish Crawford, 27, of Eden, Antonio Ramon, 30, of Eden, and Sophie Wilson, 14, of LaPorte, Indiana, were recovered Thursday night. Authorities recovered the body of Isiah Crawford (Bridish’s son), 7, of Eden, Sunday morning.

Officials recovered the body of 35-year-old Teresa Villano (Rueben’s sister), of Eden, on July 5.

Authorities said search and recovery efforts went from the Duke Energy plant to the Virginia state line.

Aircraft searched the river 6 miles into Virginia and back, and along the ground adjacent to the river, Cates said. Another aircraft search was planned for Thursday night equipped with an infrared camera.

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Tubing is a “regular activity” in the area, said Suthard, though he added that people are discouraged from tubing near the dam.

“It’s a pretty steep drop,” he said.

Cates said it’s not unusual for people to float the river on tubes or rafts in the area, but most get out and walk around the dam, which is marked by signs. The dam is approximately 8 feet tall, he said.

“Most people see a large dam and they recognize the danger,” said Tobi Addis, with the Danville Life Saving Crew. “A low-head dam even as short as three or four feet can create underwater currents that can keep you under the water over and over again.”

The search for the two others resumed Saturday morning before authorities called off search efforts that night.

“Challenges today are access to the river to deploy boats,” said Tommy Barber, with the Danville Life Saving Crew. “The river, right now, is very dirty. So you don’t have much clarity.”

The investigation runs from Rockingham County all the way to the Virginia borderline.

ABC News’ Will McDuffie contributed to this report.

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