Woman rescued from river

Photo By Rick Harris
River Rescue
Members of the Carter County rescue squad and Sheriff’s Department lift a freezing woman out of the Watauga River after she had fallen in. Two bystanders rushed to the woman’s aid and held her out of the water until rescuers arrived,

   By Abby Morris-Frye

  A Bluff City woman who was unclothed and reportedly intoxicated was rescued from the Watauga River Tuesday afternoon after a witness saw her stumble and fall down an embankment into the water.
  According to police, Rhonda Hamilton, 37, of 56 Earhart Rd., Bluff City, was rescued from a stretch of the Watauga River along Lover's Lane near the Moose Lodge.
  According to Terry Arnold, director of the Carter County Rescue Squad, the Technical Rescue Team of the CCRS responded to the scene and removed the woman from the water. She was treated for hypothermia and transported to Sycamore Shoals Hospital, where she was listed in stable condition Tuesday evening.
  When the Technical Rescue Team arrived on the scene, two bystanders had helped secure the woman to the river bank but were unable to remove her from the water, said John Burleson, the Special Operations/Rescue Coordinator for the CCRS. Police identified the two bystanders as Jeff Moore and Terry Blose.
  The team then climbed down the embankment and entered the water, where they wrapped the woman in a thermal blanket and secured her in a wire search basket outfitted with a floatation collar and then pulled her from the river.
  According to Burleson, rescuers used a wire rescue basket because the basket's open design allows water to flow through and thereby creates less pressure against the basket to allow for a safer rescue operation.
  Burleson said the temperature of the water was approximately 38 degrees due to the fact that the river was being generated.
  Carter County Sheriff's Department Lt. Rock Croy said the woman apparently pulled her vehicle off the side of the road while intoxicated. Police found Hamilton's clothes inside the vehicle.
  Croy said a witness, Donna Higgins, had been driving down Lover's Lane with her son when he spotted Hamilton beside the road. Higgins turned her vehicle around to see if the woman needed assistance.
  When Higgins pulled her vehicle off the roadway and tried to approach Hamilton, Hamilton got back into her vehicle, locked the door and would not respond to Higgins, Croy said. Higgins then saw another vehicle a short distance up the road and walked to that vehicle to find out if anyone knew the woman or why she was there.
  Croy said Higgins' son told him that after Higgins' walked off, Hamilton again exited her vehicle. "While she was standing outside the car she lost her balance and fell into the river," Croy said.
  Police searched the vehicle and found an empty whiskey bottle and another bottle open and partially empty. "One bottle of whiskey was already gone and she was apparently starting on the second one," Croy said.