PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — Emergency crews found a man’s body in the Elizabeth River early Tuesday morning, after he disappeared suddenly in the water Monday evening.
Portsmouth Police Detective Misty Holley said crews located the man’s body at 12:30 a.m. He has been identified as James Edward Wofford, Sr. of Hampton.
Chief Mike Stockton said fire-rescue units and two boats with the Portsmouth Fire Department and U.S. Coast Guard responded to the area of Bayview Boulevard and Florida Avenue to look for a 45-year-old man believed to be in the water.
This was after a person called 911 around 6:15 p.m. and said several swimmers were in distress under the West Norfolk Bridge.
Investigators with the Portsmouth Police Department believe Wofford, his four-year-old son, and his sister went into the water to cool off when Wofford put his son on his shoulders and began wading out. The sister turned to where Wofford was walking, saw his son struggling in the water and pulled him to safety. She told police that when she looked back, she could not see Wofford in the water.
“He was the nicest caring father. He was a good man, well liked son,” said Crystal Kennell, Wofford’s sister. “I wish to God I could have saved him, but I couldn’t. I tried.”
The four-year-old was taken to the Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters, where he was listed in good condition later Monday night.
Wofford’s nephew, Joe, who was near the scene at the time of the incident, also said Wofford was walking in the water and suddenly went under.
Stockton said the area where the man was walking is shallow, but then there is a big drop off, if he were to have gone far enough out. Wofford’s nephew believes his uncle had problems with the drop off.
Family members say Wofford was a strong swimmer, but recently had some medical issues. Joe said Wofford had high blood pressure, but has no idea what caused the tragedy.
“I don’t know if it was blood pressure, or he slipped and hit his head or was sucked in some water,” he said. “He went down.”
A Coast Guard helicopter, the Virginia Marine Resource Commission as well as locals in their own boats joined the search. The VMRC’s Dive Team located and recovered the body a short distance from where Wofford was last seen in the water.
The Medical Examiner’s Office will determine the official cause of death.
The man’s nephew said the victim is from Newport News. Although, Portsmouth police have his last known address listed in Hampton.
No further information has been released. Stay with WAVY.com for updates as they become available.