Courtland woman drowns after vehicle lands in swamp

Published 10:33 am Saturday, September 10, 2011

SEBRELL—After losing control of her sport utility vehicle on a flooded Highway 35 at 2:30 a.m. Friday and landing in a Sebrell swamp, Paula Horner called 911.

Help, however, didn’t arrive soon enough.

Horner, 58, of the 21000 block of Old Hickory Road, Courtland, drowned in her submerged vehicle when she couldn’t escape. Her passenger, James Barnes of Courtland, survived after climbing out through a window, Virginia State Police reported.

“She was submerged and she called 911 and called her daughter,” said State Police Sgt. Michelle Anaya.

First Sgt. Keith Whitley estimated the road where Horner lost control of her 2007 Chrysler Pacifica had 4 to 5 inches of water. The vehicle landed right side up near Cabin Point Road.

The water came from the rain-swollen Assamoosick Swamp, said Brooke Grow, spokeswoman for the Virginia Department of Transportation’s Hampton Roads region.

Eight minutes after the crash, VDOT closed the road due to flooding, Grow said.

“We’re assuming it rose up due to the rain,” she said.

Within hours of the crash, the water had risen to 10 inches and was continuing to rise, Grow said.

National Weather Service meteorologist Dan Proach said Emporia is the closest place to Sebrell where rainfall amounts are recorded. Between Tuesday and Friday, 2.24 inches had fallen.

“But you could be a mile away from the site and have twice or three times as much rain,” Proach said.

Water levels were high from Hurricane Irene, which dumped 12 inches of rain on Western Tidewater on Aug. 27.

“Water levels were still high and probably went down a little bit, but there’s been too many days of rain between this and Irene,” Proach said. “The surrounding area is very saturated.”

An employee of Walmart, Horner was on her way to work, Whitley said.

Anaya identified Barnes as the victim’s stepson.

Gov. Bob McDonnell on Friday declared a state of emergency in response to flooding in Virginia that has occurred as a result of the remnants of Tropical Storm Lee.

Several counties and cities east of the Interstate 95 corridor reported flash flooding overnight that stranded citizens in vehicles and may have led to three fatalities, including the one in Sebrell. Residents in several areas were evacuated, and at least 50 swift water rescues of citizens were completed. Some areas have received up to 15 inches of rain since Sept. 5.