A man was swept away near the Buena Vista whitewater park on Saturday afternoon, June 29. Authorities retrieved the body of Michael Robert James near River Runners, just south of Johnson Village.
According to witnesses, James, 40 from Boulder, spent the day paddle-boarding at the River Park in Buena Vista.
Jason Blevins, a reporter from the Colorado Sun who happened to be spending Saturday on the river, observed James skillfully navigating the rapids.
“[James] was really good [at paddle boarding]. I never caught his name, but we were both in the Staircase wave for a bit on Saturday,” explained Blevins. “[James] was very well equipped with a PFD (Personal Flotation Device), helmet, wet suit and a belt throw bag. He was riding a Badfish Cobra surfer. He surfed a ton [on Saturday], and was really good.
According to Chaffee County Coroner Jeffery Graf, the autopsy revealed nothing out of the ordinary. According to Graf, the river water temperature was recorded at 54.5 degrees that day.
“We just completed the autopsy this morning and everything was consistent with drowning,” said Graf. “We didn’t find anything out of the ordinary. [Everything] was consistent with an accidental death. It is such a tragedy.”
Blevins pointed out how friendly and helpful James was to other recreationists on the river, and how able-bodied he appeared.
“He helped another guy pull an empty kayak out of the river,” recalled Blevins. “He chased it down and helped swim it to shore. He was helpful to other people who weren’t very good, like me. He was giving the [strugglers] all sorts of good tips and cheering when we finally made it to our feet. He seemed like a really nice guy.”