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One year later, family honoring relatives killed in tubing accident in North Carolina; “I’m at a total loss”

CHICAGO (CBS) — Today marks the one-year anniversary of a tragic tubing accident in Eden, North Carolina, which claimed the lives of five people.

Nine family members went tubing on the Dan River in North Carolina on June 16, 2021. Only four survived. Those who passed away were from the northwest suburban Palatine and the LaPorte area in northwest Indiana.

The family of those from the Palatine area talked to CBS 2’s Suzanne Le Mignot in an exclusive interview about their grief; and the ways they’re honoring their loved ones, and helping others.

Bridgette Riley held a photo of her daughter Bridish Crawford. The 27-year-old and her 7-year-old son, Isaiah Crawford, died in a tubing accident on the Dan River in Eden, North Carolina last June.

“I’m at a total loss,” Riley said.

Bridish and Isaiah, both originally from Palatine, had moved to North Carolina last year. They went tubing in the Dan River with several family members just a month after moving there. Only four of the nine survived.

“She was not just my daughter, she was my friend. We were a close-knit family,” Riley said.

Le Mignot met the family in Osage Park, in Palatine, a Bridish spot often used to celebrate the lives of loved ones who had passed away.

Riley said it was an irony to be there Thursday remembering Bridish.

“It is, and a hard one,” she said.

Family members had no idea the river they were tubing in was in the path of a dam near Duke’s Energy power plant. Some watched helplessly as their loved ones were pulled under, never to surface – among them, Theresa Villano, who was six months pregnant. Her niece Irene Villano, survived.

“We couldn’t do anything. It was already too late,” Irene said.

The four who survived held onto a wall of the dam for more than 19 hours until they were rescued. After the tragedy, Duke Energy put signs up reading, “Danger, submerged dam. Do not approach.”

In a statement, the company said there were signs in place at the time of the incident. A spokesperson would not comment on what those signs said.

“These dams, people need to be aware of them. They shouldn’t … lives shouldn’t be taken away from their families due to dams,” Riley said.

The family said they want to see change after this tragedy. They’ll be creating a website to show where all dams are located nationwide. They’re also creating a non-profit to offer grief counseling resources to help the families of those who have lost loved ones in tubing accidents.

“From what I’ve done on my own research, we know that all of the dams out there are not even recorded,” said Bridish’s sister, Raven Winfrey. “Sometimes the signs aren’t there. Just seeing something that says ‘Dam Ahead’ is not enough to let you know that it’s dangerous; that it could be a potential death trap. They were trapped when they went out there.”

Bridish’s best friend Meya Suggs said honoring Bridish’s memory through dam safety awareness and a non-profit is a very fitting tribute for a woman who gave so much.

“She just was a caring person, you know? She never wanted anybody … she never wished ill will on anybody. She always wanted the best for everybody and every person,” she said.

“We have to be the voice for the people who don’t have them anymore; which is my sister, my nephew, and their relatives who passed away,” said Bridish’s sister, Mariah Winfrey.

On Saturday, the family is having a gathering to honor Bridish and Isaiah at Osage Park in Palatine, starting at 3 PM, with a lantern release at 8:30 PM.

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