Cops net river trespassers at night
The cool waters and shady trees that line the banks of the Rappahannock River in Fredericksburg can be a powerful draw for people looking for relief on a hot, oppressive summer evening.
But once the sun sets over the banks, a plethora of dangers faces swimmers and people who wade into the river, which transitions from white-water rapids upstream of the U.S. 1 Falmouth Bridge to tidal flat-water downstream of the span.
Among these hazards are a higher likelihood of drowning in the dark waters, where holes and branches, rocks and plants can pull unsuspecting victims under the river’s surface.
The absence of sunlight can make a person caught even in shallow waters invisible to onlookers and rescue teams.
Far more likely, though, is the danger of a hefty fine for trespassing on city property, or for liquor law violations that can take the price tag of a visit to the Rappahannock from virtually free to more than $100 for violating a city ordinance.
The laws are in place to prevent tragic incidents, like the 90 drownings in the Rappahannock since 1985. And the threat of arrest can pack a powerful punch to deter residents from putting themselves in grave danger on the river after dark.
Since temperatures began to creep up into the 70s and beyond in mid-April, city police have responded to 32 incidents along Riverside Drive, a popular point of access to the seductive white-water rapids.
Sixty people have been arrested in these incidents, with charges ranging from trespassing after dark to possession of alcohol on the river to fishing without a license, city police records show.
Those found guilty pay a fine and court fees amounting to about $114, according to court records.
Prominent signs along the river warn against trespassing after darkness falls and against possession of alcohol on the bank.
“People do tend to ignore the signs,” said city police spokeswoman Natatia Bledsoe.
Trespassing along the river has always been a problem facing police, and the number of offenders this year is typical of the violations police report every year, Bledsoe said.
The police increase patrols as the summer months progress, she added. Officers patrol the river progressively to deter trespassing, and they also respond to any complaints of illegal activity in the area.
With at least two more months of warm temperatures ahead and plenty of reasons to visit the river, city police expect to respond to at least a few more incidents on the river.
But residents can avoid arrest and a blow to their wallets by minding the signs along the river and staying away from the water after the sun sets.
And at the same time, they can protect themselves from the dangers that lurk under the river’s surface at night.
Katie Shepherd 540/374-5417