Tragedy struck the Braxton County emergency services community Sunday afternoon when a Gassaway firefighter lost his life while trying to rescue a mother and her child from an automobile that had plunged into the Elk River.
The call came into Braxton Control at approximately 2:30, May 1 that a car had went into the Elk River near the Senior Center between Gassaway and Sutton. John Dean Forbush, a GVFD member, was at his place of business on Route 4 just north of the accident. Forbush, 24, attempted to enter the river from Route 4 to rescue a mother and child who were trapped in the submerged vehicle. Unfortunately, the volunteer fireman never completed his mission due to the cold and swift waters of the Elk. John Forbush is the believed to be the first firefighter to die in the line of duty in the history of Braxton county.
According to authorities, the vehicle entered the water after traveling over the embankment from the Braxton County Senior Center parking lot. Reports indicate that six individuals tried in vain to reach the pair. A Sheriff’s Deputy and State Trooper entered the frigid water to help extract those who were trying to assist the accident victims.
Sutton and Gassaway Volunteer Fire Departments coordinated a joint effort that included members from all seven departments in the county. The Summersville VFD Dive Team responded to the scene and were instrumental in recovering at least one of the victims. The last of the victims was pulled from the river at approximately 4:30 p.m.
The Braxton County Sheriff’s Office is in charge of the investigation. The Sutton Detachment of the West Virginia State Police, the WV State Fire Marshal’s Office are assisting. According to Captain Bryce Scarbro of the Sheriff’s Office, the adult female victim was identified as Latonya Bell, 42, of Cleveland Ohio. Her 8-year-old daughter, Havana Pipkins, also of Cleveland was the third victim involved in the Sunday accident.