A family was fly-fishing from their drift boat on the Snake River on Friday when their trip took a deadly turn.
The private drift boat hit a rock near the bridge just north of the Snake River KOA, first responders said.
Officials are now trying to determine how 69-year-old Greenville, Mississippi, resident George Roulhac died in the accident.
“The driver of the drift boat said they were coming down under the bridge where there is construction, and someone had told him to stay to the left to avoid a new wave, so he did,” Teton County Sheriff’s Office Master Deputy Kurt Drumheller said. “But he ended up hitting a rock, and it pushed them into the bridge support beam and it threw them sideways and it flipped the boat.”
Roulhac and two other men who were in the boat were tossed into the water and floated about a quarter-mile downstream.
As they floated toward the Snake River KOA, everyone, including Roulhac, was accounted for and alert, Drumheller said.
“One of the men said to Roulhac, ‘Hey, are you OK?’ ” Drumheller said. “And he said, ‘Yeah, I am good.’ ”
Witnesses said Roulhac seemed fine and was close enough to shore to stand up, but about 15 seconds later they turned around and he was “floating face down.”
Relatives pulled him to shore at the KOA and started CPR, which deputies and paramedics continued for an hour, but Roulhac couldn’t be revived. He was pronounced dead on scene.
Officials wonder if Roulhac had a medical emergency after the boat capsized, causing his death.
Teton County Coroner Brent Blue said the exact cause of death is under investigation.
Two other relatives were following the drift boat in a rental raft when the accident happened, Drumheller said. They confirmed that the drift boat hit a rock, which caused it to hit the bridge pillar, which caused the boat to flip.
The boat capsized under a bridge that the Wyoming Department of Transportation is working to replace.
The construction is causing a bigger wave than most fishermen and river floaters are used to.
As part of its project to widen the section of South Highway 89 from Munger Mountain Elementary School to Hoback Junction, WYDOT is preparing to replace the bridge.
Crews built a “rock jetty” that allowed them to access the piers. The rocks forced the flow of the river left, creating a wave, Resident Engineer Bob Hammond said.
The manipulation of the river was approved by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Hammond said.
WYDOT posted on Facebook, distributed press releases and posted signs at the South Park, Von Gontard and Wilson boat ramps to warn river users about the hazard.
Drumheller said the new construction wave was not a direct factor in the accident.
“I know all the guys I’ve talked to at WYDOT, we all feel extremely bad about someone losing their life on the river,” Hammond said. “Its very unfortunate. No one ever wants to see that happen.”
It was unknown at press time if Roulhac was wearing a life jacket.
Allie Gross contributed to this report.