Warning signs posted after Portsmouth drowning

WAVY/Aaron Kurtz

PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — The city of Portsmouth has made some changes after a man drowned under the West Norfolk Bridge last month.

James Wofford, a 45-year-old man from Hampton, lost his life under the bridge while wading in the water with his four-year-old son. The loss was tragic and unexpected to family members, who desperately tried to save the experienced swimmer. They were able to rescue the child in the nick of time.

Weeks after the incident, the city has erected new warning signs along the river bank to warn swimmers of the potential for danger.

Photos: Portsmouth posts signs after drowning

“The signs make them more aware and keep them on their toes to swim at your own risk,” said Danette Culpepper about the signs that have gone up near her boat rental business off the picturesque Bayview Boulevard. Her family also does commercial fishing there, so she knows a thing or two about the river bank. She calls it inviting, but treacherous.

“It’s the mud. It’s a real thick, almost a clay, soft mud,” she said. “When you touch it, the harder you fight,  the deeper you go.”

And the conditions are even more treacherous at high tide. Without a pole or rope, it’s nearly impossible to pull yourself out, Culpepper said. So she’s glad the signs are up, and so is Councilman Bill Moody.

“That river can be dangerous. It can get deep very suddenly. There are holes, drop offs in the river,” Moody said. “We need to warn people of that danger.”

Tony Nguyen has lived nearby for many years, seen his share of drownings and doesn’t think the signs will stop anyone.

“Honestly, I think its a little too late for the signs,” Nguyen said. “It will not [stop anyone.] I’m out here everyday in the morning and the evenings as well, and I see people out there fishing and especially crabbing, and walking out there.”

Nguyen said this is the first time he’s seen warning signs go up after a drowning. We’re told the Virginia Department of Transplantation also posted “No Trespassing” signs on the bridge pilings.

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