River death

A drift boat passenger died last week after the boat he was in flipped at the South Highway 89 bridge just above the Snake River KOA. The boat’s driver kept left to avoid a large wave train created by nearby construction and instead hit a rock that drove the boat into a bridge column.

George Erwin Roulhac’s family is still coming to terms with the tragic accident that took his life.

“It all happened so fast,” Roulhac’s cousin Polk Van Zandt said. “It literally flipped over in two seconds. And we do this all the time. No one was even drinking or misbehaving.”

The relatives were fly-fishing on the Snake River on Friday when their drift boat hit a rock that pushed them into a bridge pillar, causing them to capsize.

“As soon as the boat flipped over I went straight to the bottom of the river,” Van Zandt said. “So I never saw what happened.”

Roulhac, who was better known as Win by friends and family, seemed OK after the wreck.

The 69-year-old was alert as he floated downstream toward the Snake River KOA, 8 miles south of Jackson, even telling a family member, “Yeah, I’m good.”

Witnesses said Roulhac was close enough to shore to stand, but about 15 seconds later they turned around and he was “floating face down.”

The Teton County Coroner’s Office is still trying to determine an official cause of death.

“We are looking into whether it was a drowning or a cold water immersion that caused a medical problem,” Teton County Coroner Dr. Brent Blue said.

Blue said he will make a decision later this week after some tests return from a pathologist.

It was around noon when witnesses pulled Roulhac to the shore at the KOA and started CPR.

Paramedics and deputies arrived and continued CPR for an hour, but Roulhac couldn’t be revived.

“The quick response was pretty amazing,” Van Zandt said.

Van Zandt said firefighters, paramedics, deputies and bystanders went out of their way to help.

“A deputy got me a blanket because I was shivering,” Van Zandt said. “I lost my shoes and [Jackson Hole Fire/EMS Battalion Chief] Mike [Moyer] went and got shoes out of his car and gave me his shoes. They did everything they could have.”

Roulhac and his wife own property in Teton Village, Van Zandt said.

He was an avid outdoorsman who had just retired after a long, successful career as a financial advisor.

“His last day was last Friday,” Van Zandt said. “He loved skiing, hunting and fishing and camping. He came to Jackson a long time ago and lived here several years like a lot of college kids do.”

Van Zandt, a retired Episcopal priest, led a prayer when Roulhac was pronounced dead at the river’s edge.

“We were real close,” Van Zandt said. “He was the brother I never had.”

Their 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 floaters are used to.

When they were about to get on the river on Friday morning, Van Zandt said, someone told them to avoid the wave.

“He just said there is a wave there because of work they’re doing on it,” Van Zandt said. “He said to stay river left so that’s what we did.”

The boat hit the rock as it hugged the left side of the river to avoid the wave.

“It was just an accident,” Van Zandt said. “A terrible accident.”

WYDOT is replacing the bridge as part of its project to widen the section of South Highway 89 from Munger Mountain Elementary School to Hoback Junction.

The manipulation of the river was approved by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Resident Engineer Bob Hammond said.

WYDOT posted on social media, distributed press releases and posted signs at the South Park, Von Gontard and Wilson boat ramps to warn river users about the hazard.

“Any time you narrow up a channel and speed up the flow you end up getting a wave,” Hammond said. “As the wave became bigger we sent press releases out.”

Hammond said WYDOT has been putting up additional signage at boat ramps. Work will continue through the fall and commence this winter with more construction planned next August, he said.

“We all feel badly that someone died there,” Hammond said. “It’s unfortunate. We feel very bad for the family for their loss.”

Contact Emily Mieure at 732-7066 or courts@jhnewsandguide.com.

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