UPDATE: Baseball Team Honors Player Killed After SUV Plunged into River

By: Jennifer Rizzi, WSAZ News Staff Email
By: Jennifer Rizzi, WSAZ News Staff Email

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UPDATE 5/20/12 @10:45 p.m.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) –While most baseball games are filled with cheers, laughter and smiles, one particular game in Charleston had a much more solemn tone Sunday evening.

The West Virginia Orioles met at the University of Charleston field for their favorite pastime – but without one of their favorite players.

Sunday marked their first game without John Damron – a 30-year-old who was lost last month when his vehicle drove into the Kanawha River. Rescue crews pulled the SUV from the water several days later, giving friends both heartache and closure.

“He was always there to pick everybody up…he never let anybody get down,” said teammate Junior Shaffer. “He brought everybody else up to his level.”

John was described as a man respected both on and off of the field. Teammates say he was a talented pitcher who intimidated the competition, but had a peaceful nature admired by many.

“I thought of how gentle John was in a game that can be violent and explosive,” said former teammate Paul Daniell. “He always kept his calm and was so kind to his teammates and the other team.”

The team honored John at Sunday’s game by displaying his jersey – the now-retired number five.

They remembered him before the game with a speech and a prayer, and when it started they kept his position open – reminding all that his place will never be filled.

“He was just a stand-up kind of a guy,” said Danny Haught, who attended the game. “And that’s hard to find nowadays.”


UPDATE 4/30/12 @ 10:15 p.m.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- It’s a terrible tragedy that has so many people asking why.

John Damron, who was only 30, was driving through Charleston last Thursday night when his SUV went off the road and plunged into the Kanawha River.

The water conditions were so dangerous that the car and Damron’s body weren’t recovered until Sunday. Charleston Police are now trying to figure out exactly what caused the crash.

In the meantime, friends are trying to keep Damron’s memory alive. Damron had a huge impact with the West Virginia Men’s Senior Baseball League as a pitcher for the Orioles. Even though Damron is now gone, the team wants him to know that he’ll always have a spot on their team.

It’s been a difficult past couple of days for Junior Shaffer. Shaffer is the manager of the West Virginia Orioles, the baseball team John Damron played for.

"He was part of the heart and soul of our team,” Shaffer said. “You could count on him. You never had to worry if John was going to be there. He was always there."

But since Thursday’s accident that took Damron’s life, he’ll no longer be there. But Shaffer wants to keep his memory and spirit as part of the Orioles alive.

"We want him to know that he made such an impression on all of us as a team that we're willing to play that first at bat with just two outfielders to let him know that he's always got a spot with us,” Shaffer said. “Always."

Damron played left outfield when we wasn’t pitching. But on the mound, Shaffer said his signature pitch was a curveball. So on May 20 when the Orioles take on the Reds for their first game, the first pitch will also be a curveball.

"It didn't matter what the count was, how many outs there were, how many guys were on base, he was going to throw that curveball one way or another," he said.

Shaffer said they’re doing all of this because of the impact Damron had on everyone. They all considered him a good friend and a compassionate person -- a man so many considered family.

Shaffer said he also plans on retiring Damron’s jersey. He wore the No. 5 for the three years he played on the team. The first game is scheduled at 6:30 p.m. Sunday, May 20, at Triana Field in Kanawha City.



UPDATE 4/29/12 @ 9:15 p.m.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- After endless days of searching -- a bit of closure, Sunday. Rescue crews were able to get the SUV out of the water and also confirmed John Damron, 30, as the driver and victim.

"He's a great person. Great individual. Would do anything for anybody and he's going to be severely missed," said Josh Taylor, friend of Damron’s.

Taylor said he’s known Damron since the two were in high school. He was just one of the dozens of people who showed up along the Kanawha River, Sunday, watching and waiting for crews to pull up his car. Some even wrote messages on baseballs, Damron’s favorite sport, and threw them into the river for their friend.

"He had so many friends that knew that he was a great person and I think that is why there are so many people out here is because there wasn't a better guy," said Taylor.

But now it’s up to the Charleston Police Department to figure out what caused this accident. Police already know speed was a factor but there’s still pieces to the puzzle that are missing.

"We'll look at the vehicle, see if they're any defects with the vehicle,” said Lt. Shawn Williams, Charleston Police Department. “The medical examiners office will perform an autopsy tomorrow to tell us if there was any medical conditions that could have caused or started this process with the crash."

Until that puzzle is solved, friends said they’re starting to find some sort of closure and are saying goodbye to a friend who’s touched so many lives.

"It's really hard. But at least now we can start grieving... we can start the grieving process," said Taylor.

Police said it should take a couple of days before they get the results back from the Medical Examiner’s Office.

Keep clicking on WSAZ.com for the latest information.



UPDATE 4/29/12 @ 7 p.m.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- Recovery crews tell us they have found the body of the victim inside the SUV that crashed into the Kanawha River. Charleston Police have identified the victim as John Damron.

Officers are now investigating a possible cause for the accident. They're also checking into any possible medical conditions that Damron may have had.



UPDATE 4/29/12 @ 2:50 p.m.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- Recovery crews say they believe they've found the SUV that crashed into the Kanawha River earlier this week.

Charleston police say the east & west bound lanes of Maccorkle Ave from the Corridor G intersection to the Kanawha turnpike intersection is shut down.

Charleston Fire Department Assistant Chief Bob Sharp tells WSAZ.com that crews "think they've found" the SUV. He says crews are trying to get a rope around the vehicle in an effort to pull it from the river.

Sharp says conditions on the Kanawha River are still very bad, but they will still try to attempt to get the vehicle out of the water. One plan is to bring in a tow truck to pull the vehicle to the river bank.

We have a crew on scene and will bring you more as it develops.



UPDATE 4/28/12 @ 5:15 p.m.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- Three days after an SUV plunged into the Kanawha River, the search for the vehicle and driver continues, Saturday. So far, rescue crews haven’t found any clues into where the car could be in the river and aren’t confirming the driver’s identity. Friends have come forward and said they believe it’s John Damron, 30, who works for the WV DEP.

Rescue crews spent hours on the Kanawha River, Saturday. Zero visibility underneath the surface means the boats side sonar is their only option right now.

"Right now you can go under water and can't even see your hand in front of your face," Jeff Showalter, Charleston Fire Department said.

The Charleston Fire Department showed wsaz.com how the side sonar works.

"You've got three actual screens here,” Showalter said. “This one is directly below the boat, this one scans to the left 130 feet, this one scans to the right 130 feet."

Since crews can’t send out divers because of the water conditions, they’re relying on sonar to locate the missing SUV.

"It'll show up pretty much the outline of the picture that we're looking for,” Showalter said. “It's like this is directly below the boat you got like a 30 degree cone of the picture. There's really nothing right below us now where we're sitting. It's just smooth silt."

Fire officials said they’ve been going up and down the Kanawha River checking different channels, trying to get readings. They said it’s a tedious job because there’s a lot of area to cover and you’ve always got to be on your toes.

"You have to have someone staring at that screen the whole time because we're looking for a car in the Kanahwa River so if someone's not paying attention you know, you might miss it," he said.

But their goal is to find the SUV and it’s driver so they can piece together this tragedy.

Rescue crews said they’ll be back on the water again, Sunday, to continue their search. They’re hoping river conditions improve so they can get divers into the water.



UPDATE 4/27/12 @ 10 p.m.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- The search for an SUV that crashed into the Kanawha River was postponed Friday.

A diving expert says because of the condition of the river, finding the vehicle would be practically impossible.

While witnesses said it appears the SUV belonged to the DEP, state officials aren’t confirming that yet. They also haven’t released the driver’s name, but friends and family say they know, and they’re doing their best to hold onto hope.

Friends told WSAZ.com that John Damron, 30, was the driver of the SUV that crashed into the river Thursday evening. They said he works for the West Virginia DEP, and they’re devastated he hasn’t been found.

Charlie Carroll runs a commercial diving shop in Huntington. He worked with the Cabell County Sheriff’s Department 10 years and was involved with hundreds of river rescues.

Friday evening Carroll shared some of his insight with river rescues and why crews had to postpone their search for an SUV that went into the Kanawha River Thursday evening.

He says the bottom of the river is relatively smooth and slick, meaning the SUV may have traveled significantly after crashing.

"It's very likely the SUV is not near the point of entry,” Carroll said. “It may be a hundred yards or even much farther down river."

Because the water is moving so fast, Carroll says now divers physically can't get to the river's bottom unless they're wearing additional gear, but that would make being in the water unsafe.

"These (wet)suits take about 20 pounds of lead to sink for the rescue people who are in the suits, and it'll take 40 to 60 pounds to hold them still on the bottom, which is more than they can swim with," Carroll said.

He says the bottom line is at this point there's no sense in putting divers at risk.

"It's much better to not risk your rescue people, take time and let the water become safer,” he said. “Never let them take extra risk beyond what they feel safe with."

The search is expected to resume Saturday.



UPDATE 4/27/12 @ 6 p.m.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- The search for a SUV that crashed into the Kanawha River continues Friday. While witnesses said it appears the SUV belonged to the DEP, state officials aren’t confirming that just yet. They also haven’t released the driver’s name, but friends and family say they know, and they’re doing their best to hold onto hope.

Friends told WSAZ.com that John Damron, 30, was the driver of the SUV that crashed into the Kanawha River Thursday evening. They said he works for the West Virginia DEP, and they’re devastated he hasn’t been found.

"It just really took my breath away and kind of floored me, as I know other people will feel the same way as they get the news," said Drew McClanahan, who said it was his friend John Damron who crashed into the river.

Damron graduated from Capitol High School and is also McClanahan’s teammate. They play for the West Virginia Men’s Senior Baseball League.

"He kind of drove you to be a better person, but he never had to say anything to do it,” McClanahan said. “It was just the way he carried himself, and his actions kind of made people around him want to work harder and be a better person."

McClanahan describes Damron as selfless, always positive and never had a negative word to say about anyone. He said he was a vital member of their baseball team.

"In the baseball league that we play in, often times it's hard to get people to play certain positions and things like that,” he said. “John was always the type of person to step up and do whatever he needed to do to help other individuals and always positive. Just truly a good-hearted, genuine person."

Teammates have contacted each other throughout the day on Friday. They said it’ll be difficult for them to move forward.

"Everyone kind of has the real heavy heart that we haven't just lost a teammate in that regard, but we've lost a good friend. A lot of people have lost a good friend, and this area's lost a good person."

The DEP released a statement saying witnesses identified the car as belonging to them. It said until the vehicle is found, though, they can’t confirm that information.

Witnesses said the SUV was speeding when it went into the river and friends believe a medical problem was involved because Damron is severely diabetic.



UPDATE 4/27/12 @ 11:45 a.m.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- The search for a SUV that plunged at full speed into the Kanawha River in Charleston continues.

The accident happened just after 5 p.m. Thursday along MacCorkle Avenue. An eyewitness describes seeing the SUV go over the guard rail, down the embankment and into the Kanawha River.

A boat from the Charleston Fire Department is out in the river near Magic Island searching for the SUV. Divers are not being allowed in the water because the river is running so high.

"We're running patterns up and down the river using sonar to see what we might be able to see on the bottom," Assistant Chief Owen Hawk, Charleston Fire Department. "It could be 100 yards downstream or it could be right there where it went in."

WSAZ has confirmed investigators believe a state vehicle, assigned to the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, went off the road and into the river. The vehicle was a white SUV with a green state plate.

The family of the person believed to be in the SUV has reached out to WSAZ.com, but out of respect for the family, we are not releasing the person's name.

Police say they cannot confirm who was in that vehicle or what may have caused the crash until divers are able to recover the SUV.

"They're just trying to locate something or maybe just find a little bit of oil or gas come to the surface and give us an indication where it may be and then what the river goes down we'll resume diving," Hawk said. "At this point after the first hour it's pretty much a recovery mode."

Sources tell us they're looking at a possible medical condition that may have played a role in the crash. There were no visible skid marks at the crash site.

"The swiftness of the water, plus getting around the bridge piers, makes it very the water a little more turbulent and swifter -- makes it tougher for a diver to stay on location," C.W. Sigman, Kanawha County Deputy Emergency Manager. "It sank to the bottom reasonably fast yesterday but where did it sink?"

Investigators say they won't know for sure what factors caused the crash until they can recover that missing SUV.

Statement from the WV DEP:
From witness accounts, it appears that the vehicle involved in the accident on Thursday evening was assigned to the DEP; however, until the vehicle is retrieved we cannot confirm that information.

The police have not confirmed the identity of the driver or whether there were other occupants in the vehicle.

Therefore it is premature for us to comment on the identity of the driver until we have confirmation.

Keep clicking on WSAZ.com for the latest information.



UPDATE 4/27/12 @ 9:10 a.m.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- The search for the SUV that crashed into the Kanawha River is expected to resume Friday.

The accident happened at the intersection of Corridor G and Maccorkle Ave. in Charleston about 5 p.m.

The car failed to stop at the intersection and went through the guardrail and over a steep 50-foot embankment.

The vehicle was completely submerged by water.

An eyewitness told WSAZ.com the car was going about 70 miles per hour when it crashed. They also said they believed the car was a white vehicle with green tags.

Investigators said there were no skid marks found at the scene of the accident.

Charleston officials said the river's current was too swift and dangerous for divers to stay down Thursday. The search was called off about 9:30 p.m. Thursday. Emergency crews were expected to pick up the search again Friday morning.

As of 9:15 a.m. Friday, no one was back in the water searching for the vehicle.

Keep clicking on WSAZ.com for the latest information.



UPDATE 4/26/2012 10:25 p.m.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- The search for a white SUV that went airborne and crashed into the Kanawha river Thursday has been called off for the night.

The search will continue early Friday morning about 7 or 8 a.m.

The accident happened at the intersection of Corridor G and Maccorkle Ave. in Charleston about 5 p.m.

The car failed to stop at the intersection and went through the guardrail and over a steep 50-foot embankment.

The vehicle was completely submerged in the water.

An eyewitness told WSAZ.com the car was going about 70 miles per hour when it crashed. They also said they believed the car was a white vehicle with green tags.

Investigators said there were no skid marks found at the scene of the accident.

Charleston officials said the river's current was too swift and dangerous for divers to stay down Thursday.

"We were just hoping to find him and pull him out. But he was going so fast he literally cleared the bank," Mark Miller said. "We were just hoping to see bubbles -- maybe from the car."

Police have been unable to locate the car or driver at this time. Police said they don't know how many people were inside.

Keep clicking on WSAZ.com for the latest information.



UPDATE 4/26/2012 @ 8 p.m.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- Rescue boats are still searching for a white SUV that plunged into the Kanawha river Thursday.

The accident happened at the intersection of Corridor G and Maccorkle Ave. in Charleston.

Police said the car crashed through a guardrail and went over a steep 50-foot embankment.

The vehicle was completely submerged in the high river.

An eyewitness told WSAZ.com the car was going about 70 miles per hour when it crashed. They also said they believed the car was a white vehicle with green tags.

Police have been unable to locate the car or driver at this time. Police said they don't know how many people were inside.

Keep clicking on WSAZ.com for the latest information.



UPDATE 4/26/2012 @ 6:45 p.m.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- Emergency crews are on the scene of an accident where an SUV has gone into the Kanawha River.

The accident happened just after 5 p.m. in Charleston at the intersection of MacCorkle Avenue and Corridor G.

Divers have been pulled out of the water because the current is too strong.

Crews say they have not found the SUV or anybody that may have been in the vehicle.

The westbound lanes of MacCorkle Avenue are still shut down, traffic is being turned around and sent back east.

Dispatchers are asking all drivers to avoid MacCorkle Avenue from the South Side Bridge to the Patrick Street Bridge as crews continue to their search.

We have a crew on the scene. Keep clicking on WSAZ.com for updates.



ORIGINAL STORY
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- Emergency crews are on the scene of an accident where an SUV has gone into the Kanawha River.

The accident happened just after 5 p.m. in Charleston at the intersection of MacCorkle Avenue and Corridor G.

Dispatchers say they are not sure if the people in the SUV has been able to make it out.

Rescue boats have been launched.

We have a crew headed to the scene.

Keep clicking on WSAZ.com for the latest information.


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