UPDATE: According to West Virginia officials, investigators believe Sunday’s incident that led to three deaths — including a firefighter who tried to save the other two people involved — is a murder-suicide.

John D. Forbush. (Photo courtesy: East Fork Volunteer Fire Department)

Authorities say they have security video of the crash that shows Ohio resident Latonya Bell driving in the parking lot of the Braxton County Senior Citizens Center along Route 4 before steering the car into the river.

According to Chief Deputy State Fire Marshal Robert Bailey, a 24-year-old off-duty Gassaway volunteer firefighter, John D. Forbush, was working less than a mile away when he heard the initial dispatch call on his department-issued radio. He responded to the scene.

Once there, Forbush communicated on his radio that the two people — Bell and her 8-year-old daughter — appeared to be trapped inside the vehicle. He then jumped into the river to try to rescue them. He was unable to free them from the vehicle, and he lost his own life in the process.

All three bodies were recovered from the Elk River at approximately 4:26 p.m. on Sunday.

In a statement, Bailey said the following:

John D. Forbush selflessly gave his life for strangers in need. He proudly served the Gassaway community for 4 years as a volunteer firefighter. His service to the community will forever be remembered. Summersville Fire Department, from Nicholas County, also responded to the scene with Dive Rescue resources. Fire departments from around the region will continue to provide resources and support to the Gassaway VFD and the citizens of Braxton County.


UPDATE: Braxton County Emergency Services Director John Hoffman has released the names of the mother and daughter killed in Sunday’s crash.

According to officials, 42-year-old Latonya Bell of Cleveland, Ohio, and her 8-year-old daughter, Havana Pipkins, died in the incident.



UPDATE: The Braxton County Sheriff’s Office is investigating a single-vehicle crash into the Elk River that occurred just south of Sutton, West Virginia near the Herold bridge.

Both occupants drowned in the crash, as well as a volunteer fireman who drowned trying to rescue them. A deputy and state trooper were able to pull one of the victims from the water.

Authorities were also able to pull another man from the water who was attempting to save the victims and was beginning to go under. That person is expected to be okay.

All victims have been recovered.

The Braxton County Sheriff’s office was assisted in this investigation by the West Virginia State Police, Braxton County EMS and several volunteer fire departments. No names are being released at this time and the investigation is ongoing.



SUTTON, W.Va. (WOWK) — A firefighter died in the line of duty Sunday while trying to rescue two people whose car went into the Elk River in West Virginia.

A woman and child also died in the accident that happened around 2:30 p.m. on Sunday, May 1 in Sutton.

This is according to Braxton County Emergency Services Director John Hoffman, who tells WFXR’s sister station, WOWK, that no names are being released at this time.

The incident happened about a quarter mile north of exit 62 on I-79 and Sutton along the Elk River, Hoffman says. 

West Virginia State Police is investigating the incident.