Ohio River Tragedy Update - 14 News, WFIE, Evansville, Henderson, Owensboro

Ohio River Tragedy Update

Family and friends wait for news on the missing men. Family and friends wait for news on the missing men.

New Media Producer: Kerry Corum

UPDATE, TUE, 6:00 AM: Newswatch has new information on a story we first told you about last month.

The woman who drove her SUV into the Ohio River, killing herself and five passengers, was legally drunk.

Toxicology tests revealed 32-year-old Korena Alvira of Evansville was more than twice the legal limit when her Ford Explorer plunged into the Ohio River from the downtown Henderson boat ramp.

Another woman was able to escape safely, and told police, Alvira ignored warnings to turn when she reached the boat ramp.

Sergeant John Nevels says, "Somebody would have to be impaired to drive into the riverfront, unless they did it on purpose. So we were expecting all along that she would have a high blood-alcohol content."

The widow of victim Michael Sanners said someone is responsible for the driver's blood alcohol being so high.

The victims were leaving Rookies Sports Bar at the time of the accident. Rookies has retained a lawyer, but declined our request for a comment.

Kerry's Blog.

Reporter: Jonathan Hardison

Web Producer: Jill Middleton

UPDATE, MON, 5:30 PM: Toxicology results from a Kentucky State Police lab show Korena Alvira's blood alcohol level at the time of her death was .179, more than twice Kentucky's legal limit of .08.

Those results didn't surprise Henderson Police. Sgt. John Nevels say somebody would have to be impaired to drive into the riverfront, unless they did it on purpose.

He says they've been expecting all along that she would have a high blood-alcohol content.

The bodies of Korena and her passenger Diamond Raimey were recovered with the SUV, but it took rescue crews more than a week to recover the bodies of brothers Michael and Travis Sanners, Stephen Parker, and their friend Quillen Hughes.

Informed of the toxicology results, Michael's widow Ashley told Newswatch Monday quote:

"Someone is responsible for her blood alcohol being that high."

The victims met and were leaving from Rookie's Sports Bar, when the crash happened around closing time.

Rookie's manager said he has retained a lawyer, but wouldn't give any further comment today.

Jonathan's Blog

New Media Producer: Kerry Corum

UPDATE, MON, 2:30 PM: Newswatch has an update on the SUV that crashed into the Ohio River a couple of weeks ago.

The toxicology results are in, and they're not surprising, according to police.

Korena Alvira's blood-alcohol content (BAC) was .179 at the time she drove into the Ohio River. That's according to the report, just in from the state police lab in Madisonville. Alvira's BAC was more than twice the legal limit in Kentucky, which is .08.

The SUV plunged into the river around 3:00 AM that Sunday morning. The Ford Explorer was found 75-feet out in the water, with Alvira's body, and the body of one of her passengers, still inside.

Investigating officer Sergeant Nevels says, "Drinking and driving. This is just another example of the tragedy it can be. I think the young men just picked the wrong person to get a ride home with."

Newswatch reporter Jonathan Hardison spoke to the wife of Michael Sanners Monday. The 26-year-old was one of three brothers who drowned that day. His wife says she's not that surprised by the results. She also says, someone is responsible for Korena Alvira having that much alcohol in her system. That's all she would say in regards to the latest information.

Sergeant Nevels adds, "Just how dangerous it is to drink and drive. I mean, the tragedy could been just as bad if they'd gone through a red light at Second and Green Street, you know, and got hit by a truck or something, in the side."

A footnote...Jonathan spoke to Korena's father several weeks ago, and her father said, he'd be surprised if Korena was drunk, when the toxicology report came in.

UPDATE, MON, 9:45 AM: Toxicology reports are in Monday, on Korena Alvira. She was the Henderson woman driving the SUV carrying seven people that went into the Ohio river last month. Six of the seven people in the vehicle died.

We'll have an in-depth report for you LIVE on Midday and return to this story for the details.

Kerry's Blog.

UPDATE, WED, 6:15 AM: The last of the missing drowning victims is recovered from the Ohio River.

Rescue workers found the body of 21-year-old Stephen Parker about 11:00 Tuesday morning.

Henderson Police Sergeant John Nevels said divers found Parker's body 150-feet down the river from the boat ramp, near the same spot where the bodies of three other men lost in the wreck were recovered.

Six people in all died, when the SUV went off the boat ramp and into the river in the early-morning hours of April 2nd. The group was leaving a Henderson bar.

Kerry's Blog

New Media Producer: Rachel Chambliss

UPDATE, TUE, 5 PM: An autopsy shows Stephen Parker, 21, died from drowning.

Crews found Parker's body near the area where they found three other bodies over the weekend.

Those men have been identified as Michael Sanners and his brothers, Travis Sanners and Quillian Hughes.

Rescue workers say they're glad they've been able to give the families a little peace.

Brian Coghill, Assistant Chief of Henderson Rescue, states, "All of the agencies, all the support of the community, the family, the supports been great. We didn't want this to happen, but we are glad it's over for the family and for us."

The men were in the back of the SUV. Police say the driver missed the turn and drove into the river. She died as well as the front seat passenger.

One Evansville woman was able to escape.

New Media Producer: Kerry Corum

UPDATE, TUE, 1:00 PM: Search crews in Henderson pull another body from the river around 11:00 Tuesday morning.

Authorities have not yet identified the man, but it's believed to be 21-year-old Stephen Parker.

Monday, police recovered the body of 26-year-old Michael Sanners, in the same area where they recovered the bodies of Travis Sanners and Quillian Hughes over the weekend.

Two Evansville women were found dead in the SUV last week. A third Evansville woman was able to escape. Police say the driver of the SUV missed her turn and went into the Ohio after leaving a bar.

Assistant Chief Brian Coghill says, "All of the agencies, all the support of the community, the family - the support's been great. We didn't want this to happen, but we are glad its over, for the family and for us."

Two boats were damaged during the search.

UPDATE, TUE, 6:00 AM: Searchers have found the body of another man missing for more than a week after the vehicle he was riding in plunged off the Henderson boat ramp.

Police recovered the body of 26-year-old Michael Sanners in the same area where they recovered the bodies of Travis Sanners and Quillin Hughes over the weekend.

Police are still searching for another man, 21-year-old Stephen Parker.

Two Evansville women were found dead in the SUV last week. A third Evansville woman was able to escape.

Police say the SUV ran down a boat ramp when the driver made a wrong turn after leaving a bar.

Reporter: Jonathan Hardison
New Media Producer: Rachel Chambliss

UPDATE, 4 PM MON: The third body recovered from the Ohio River is that of 25-year-old Michael Sanners. Now searchers will shift their attention to finding the remaining victim, 21-year-old Stephan Parker.

UPDATE, 12PM MON: Authorities tell Newswatch that another of the four drowning victims they've been searching for has been found. There is no word on the identity at this time.

Tune to Newswatch at 5 for complete coverage, and come back to this site for any updates as they become available.

UPDATE, SUN 10 PM: At almost the same time of day and in the same location as Travis Sanners, the body of 21-year-old Quillen Hughes was recovered near the Henderson boat ramp.

The discovery ended a week's worth of anxiety and dread for his family.

Bobbie Cantley, the Henderson Coroner, replies, "I think, feel like, they have closure, but it was a shock."

The discovery and identification was especially difficult for Quillen's 19-year-old brother.

"He's taking it pretty hard. Anytime that a body has been in the water, for any length of time, it changes. And it's not the child that you last saw," she explains.

For the second day in a row, Coroner Bobbie Cantley acted as an official but also as a fellow human being.

"I just cry with them, so we hug and cry. It's tough. Anyone that's a mother and loses a child, it's tough," Cantley continues.

It may be a matter of only hours or days until the bodies of the two other men are found, and Cantley knows the family's strength will be called on again.

Cantley says, "They have family and friends, and this is what really gets you through any tough spot. Family and friends and your faith in God, that'll help. But other than that, it's a lot of heartbreak, lot of tears."

The search will enter its second week Monday, with rescuers and divers concentrating their efforts in the same general area where Quillen and Travis were found.

One family member told Jonathan Sunday, "We're just ready for this tragedy to be over."

UPDATE, SUN, 3:30 PM: Divers have found another drowning victim in Henderson. Twenty-one-year-old Quillian Hughes was recovered Sunday.

We have a crew on the scene, and will bring you more information as we receive it.

Jonathan's been covering this story since day 1, and has a few thoughts on this tragic story.

UPDATE, SAT, 7 PM: The body of 23-year-old Travis Sanners was recovered Saturday afternoon.

For his family, it's the beginning of the end of their week-long vigil.

After six days of searching, recovery divers found the body of 23-year-old Travis Jamal Sanners mid-afternoon Saturday. His body was found not more than 100 yards from the boat ramp where an SUV he was riding in plunged into the Ohio River early last Sunday morning.

Larry Sanders, the victim's cousin, replies, "It's a very tough reality to get a grasp on, but just what we've been praying for. It does bring some closure to our family."

Sanners body was identified by his parents.

Henderson's Coroner, Bobbie Cantley, states, "Parents did better than I did. They're very strong, have a lot of faith. They did a beautiful job."

These parents will most likely be called on to do the same heart-wrenching duty twice more if or when the bodies of their sons, Michael and Stephen, are recovered.

"We just want it to be over with so we can go on and move on," Sanders continues. "They stayed on it until a break came, and that's what we needed, is a break."

The victims families are now satisfied, and have been embraced by Red Cross and Salvation Army volunteers providing food and comfort, and in turn, the family is ready to repay the favor.

"I told 'em anytime they're getting ready to raise money, include me in it," Sanders claims. "We don't understand how important these rescue teams are and what the American Red Cross does until it affects you. And now we understand."

UPDATE, SAT, 4 PM: Another victim of last weekend's drownings has been found.

UPDATE, FRI, 4 PM: The search for four men believed to have drown in the Ohio River is suspended because of the weather.

Crews searched for about two hours Friday morning for brothers Michael and Travis Sanners and Stephen Parker and their friend Quillian Hughes.

Authorities tell us they expect a huge turnout of volunteer firefighters to help in the search Saturday.

Meanwhile, family members are planning a prayer vigil Friday at 6 p.m. If it rains, it will be held at 12 p.m. Saturday.

New Media Producer: Kerry Corum

UPDATE, FRI, 10:30 AM: Family members of three Henderson men and a friend, believed to have drowned in the Ohio River, are holding a prayer vigil Friday as crews continue to search for their bodies.

Brothers Michael Sanners, Travis Sanners and Stephen Parker, and their friend Quillian Hughes, were in the back of an SUV when it plunged into the Ohio early Sunday morning.

The search was called off Thursday, due to rain. Police tell us they didn't pick anything up on sonar Thursday.

The prayer vigil is scheduled for Friday night at 6:00 at the riverfront. If it rains, it will be rescheduled for Saturday at noon.

UPDATE, FRI, 8:30 AM: Crews are planning to resume their search for four men still missing after the SUV they were riding in plunged into the Ohio river late Saturday night.

The search was called off on Thursday when rain began falling.

Police said sonar turned up nothing during the search on Thursday.

Brothers Michael and Travis Sanners and Stephen parker and their friend Quillian Hughes are still missing.

The bodies of Diamond Raimey and the driver, Korena Alvira, were found in the SUV earlier this week.

UPDATE, THUR. 5pm: The search for four missing men has been suspended in Henderson because of the rain Thursday afternoon.

Crews searched for most of the day, but pulled the boats out of the water about 3pm CDT. They say they'll resume the search either later Thursday or Friday.

The victims' family is planning a prayer service at the Henderson riverfront Friday evening at 6pm CDT, or at noon Saturday in case of rain.

UPDATE, THU, 8:00 AM: A prayer vigil is being planned for four Henderson, Kentucky men, missing since Sunday when the SUV they were in ran off a boat ramp into the Ohio River.

Two Evansville, Indiana women drowned and a third Evansville woman survived.

Divers are battling strong river currents as they search for the four men.

Searchers spent part of the day Wednesday focusing on an area of the river where sonar equipment showed what appeared to be something beneath the water's surface.

Three of the missing men are brothers.

Friends and family members of the missing and deceased have been at the site most of the week. A prayer vigil sponsored by the families of the missing is planned for 6:00 PM Friday at the boat ramp.

UPDATE, THU, 7:00 AM: Cold water is slowing the search for three brothers and a friend, missing after the SUV they were riding in, plunged into the Ohio River.

Sergeant John Nevels says it could take a week to find the men, given the current river temperature, which was measured at 49-degrees Wednesday.

Nevels says the cold water prevents submerged bodies from coming to the surface.

Wednesday rescue crews worked with police dogs and took boats to Henderson Island, to continue their search.

Nevels said it is unlikely any of the men are still alive.

UPDATE, WED, 11:00 AM: In Henderson, there's still no sign of three brothers and another man, missing since Sunday when the SUV they were riding in plunged into the Ohio River.

The bodies of the SUV's driver, 32-year-old Korena Alvira and another passenger, 32-year-old Diamond Raimey, were pulled from the SUV over the weekend. Both were from Evansville.

Jamie Rakestraw, 26, was able to swim to shore after the accident. She told police the Ford Explorer she was riding in, was driven down the Henderson boat ramp and into the water.

Police say Rakestrew had met the others in the SUV shortly before they drove into the river, and did not know their names.

Police Chief Ed Brady quotes the lone survivor as saying, after leaving Rookies Sports Bar, the driver missed the turn at Water Street and headed down the boat ramp into the river.

Six boat crews have searched as far as three miles down river and dogs have worked the shorelines looking for the men.

A brother of one of the women who drowned believes there should be a barrier to keep vehicles from going into the river.

The search for the four missing men will continue today along the Henderson riverfront.

Reporter: Jonathan Hardison
New Media Producer: Rachel Chambliss

UPDATE, TUE, 9 PM: Six boat crews have searched as far as three miles down-river and dogs have worked the shorelines looking for the four missing men.

A brother of one of the women who drowned believes there should be a barrier to keep vehicles from going into the river.

Abdul Ramey, victim's brother, states, "As to why this happened, I don't know. Why you can't sit there and see this is a ramp. And why there was nothing, a protective shield right there, saying this a ramp and goes into the water. There's a stop sign up there, but nothing to stop people from driving in here. Also, why did Korena drive fast after stopping into the water?"

The search for the four missing men will continue Wednesday along the Henderson riverfront.

New Media Producer: Kerry Corum

UPDATE, TUE, 1:30 PM: Searchers are back at the Henderson riverfront Tuesday, to continue looking for four men missing since Saturday night.

Officials say this search will span a wider area because of the wind and the river's strong currents.

Divers have been looking for four men who were passengers in an SUV that plunged into the Ohio River early Sunday morning.

The bodies of the SUV's driver, 32-year-old Korena Alvira and another passenger, 32-year-old Diamond Raimey, were pulled from the SUV over the weekend.

Three of the missing men are brothers, 25-year-old Michael Sanners, 23-year-old Travis Sanners, and 21-year-old Stephen Parker. Their friend, 21-year-old Quillin Hughes, is also missing.

Michael's wife Ashley says she's not giving up hope that all four are alive.

UPDATE, TUE, 8:00 AM: Search crews have resumed their work on the Ohio River at Henderson where four men are still missing after a van plunged off a ramp Sunday, drowning two Evansville women. Another Evansville woman survived.

Henderson Police Sergeant John Nevels says the four missing men are Henderson residents: 25-year-old Michael Sanners; 23-year-old Travis Sanners; 21-year-old Stephen Parker and 21-year-old Quillian Hughes. Parker is identified as a half-brother to the Sanners brothers.

Police Chief Ed Brady says 26-year-old Jamie Rakestrew was sitting in the center back seat of the Ford SUV and was able to get out of the vehicle and swim to shore.

The two confirmed dead are 32-year-old Korena Alvira, believed to have been the driver, and Diamond Raimey, also 32.

Brady quotes the lone survivor as saying that after leaving a night spot called "Rookies," the driver, Alvira, missed the turn at Water Street and headed down the boat ramp into the river.

UPDATE, TUE, 6:00 AM: A third day of searching is on tap for rescue crews in Henderson Tuesday.

They will continue looking for four men, missing since early Sunday, when the SUV they were riding in plunged into the Ohio River.

Officials say when the search resumes, it will span a wider area because of Monday's high winds and the river's strong currents.

The bodies of the SUV's driver, 32-year-old Korena Alvira, and another passenger, 32-year-old Diamond Raimey, were discovered over the weekend.

Three of the missing men are brothers, 25-year-old Michael Sanners, 23-year-old Travis Sanners, and 21-year-old Stephen Parker. Their friend, 21-year-old Quillian Hughes, is also missing.

Michael's wife Ashley says she's not giving up hope that all four are alive. "I just know that they are fine. That they're on land somewhere. They're not in the water. They're just waiting for somebody to get there. If they're not awake, they're probably unconscious or hurt or something. But I know they're alive and breathing. Just waiting. Just waiting. Cold, hungry, but they're waiting."

Jamie Rakestraw, 26, was able to swim to shore after the accident. She told police the Ford Explorer she was riding in, was driven down the Henderson boat ramp and into the water.

UPDATE, 7PM MON: Authorities have released the names of the missing men. Travis Sanners, Michael Sanners and Stephen Parker are brothers. Quillan Hughes is the fourth man missing in the incident.

UPDATE, 5PM MON: Newswatch has learned that three of the missing men are brothers. We'll have their names for you as soon as possible.

Searchers went back into the Ohio River about 4pm CDT Monday, after winds subsided enough for boats and divers to continue the search safely.

UPDATE, MON, 2:30 PM: Four men are still missing after an SUV plunges into the Ohio River in Henderson.

Search operations resumed at 8:30 Monday, but have since been halted due to high winds on the Ohio River. The search is expected to resume at 5:00 Monday, but the NWS says the winds aren't expected to die down anytime soon.

Searchers were using sonar and underwater cameras to search for bodies. The driver and passenger were found and pulled from the river in their SUV. Both were pronounced dead.

The information comes from 26-year-old woman, who swam to shore. She says four men caught a ride with her and her now deceased friends. But the men have not been located.

Sergeant John Nevels tells us, "The witness said she knows for a fact that one of the subjects got out the a window, because she went out behind him. She said that that subject was trying to hang on to the top of the car and (unintelligible). She said he then went into the water, and that they both went under, and she come up and she says she never saw him come back up."

Family members and friends are continuing their vigil, in the hopes that something will be found.

UPDATE, MON, 7:30 AM: Henderson police say they don't know why an SUV ended up in the river.

Two women were found dead in the SUV and a survivor has led police to believe there are four men still missing.

The accident happened early Sunday morning after the SUV - apparently carrying six passengers - drove off a boat ramp near the downtown Henderson riverfront.

That's according to Henderson police, who talked to Jamie Rakestrew of Evansville, Indiana. She survived the crash.

The two women found inside the SUV have been identified as 32-year-old Korena Alvira and 32-year-old Diamond Raimey, both of Evansville, Indiana.

Henderson police and the Henderson County Coroner's office are investigating the incident, and autopsies will be performed on the two women Monday.

Police say Rakestrew had met the others in the SUV shortly before they drove into the river and did not know their names.

UPDATE, MON, 6:00 AM: In Henderson, two women died, four others are still missing, after an SUV plunged into the Ohio River early Sunday morning.

One woman survived the plunge, and now police and family members are hoping the other four missing passengers escaped as well.

Police are asking for anyone who may have been in the vehicle or for families who have a relative or friend who did not come home Sunday night, to call Henderson police at (270) 831-1295.

The rescuers will go back in the water at 8:00 Monday morning. Jonathan Hardison will join live in our 6:00 PM with the very latest.

Reporter: Jonathan Hardison
New Media Producer: Rachel Chambliss

UPDATE, SUN, 9 PM: Two women are dead and four others are missing after an SUV plunges into the Ohio River.

One woman survived, and now police and family members are hoping the other four passengers escaped as well.

The investigation into how this could have happened is running on two tracks. Rescuers are preparing to go back into the water Monday to resume the search for bodies, while police officers use the survivor's description to piece together how a tragedy unfolded.

Around 3 Sunday morning, police believe 32-year-old Korena Alvira and a friend left Rookies, a Henderson sports bar, and offered a ride home to another group of passengers.

As Korena's Ford explorer approached the intersection of 2nd and Water Streets, she made a fatal mistake.

Henderson Police Chief Ed Brady says, "Everybody in the car saying, 'turn right, turn right.' And the driver failed to turn right, either through confusion or we're not sure why, continued straight across Water Street, down the boat ramp, and straight into the water."

Jamie Rakestrew, 26, was able to swim to shore, and it's her account that lead police to recover the explorer with Korena and a friend inside.

Korena leaves behind three daughters and a host of questions.

According to the survivor, there were four other men inside the SUV, but no one is sure of who they were, and where they are now.

"We have to assume that there's four people that may be in the water," Brady continues.

Ashley Sanners believes her husband, Michael, and two of his brothers are among the four men still missing.

"They showed me my brother-in-law's shoe. Then, that's when I knew it was them," she says.

Citing bad weather, search efforts were called off Sunday afternoon, but Ashley says she believes rescuers could've and should've stayed longer.

"If it was their loved ones, they would defiantly be down here, having everybody in the city of Henderson looking for them," Sanners states.

Search boats will be back in the water Monday morning, and Ashley is not giving up hope.

Sanners replies, "They can fight this current. No matter how hard the current is pushing, they will fight it. They will not give up."

Police are asking for anyone who may have been in the vehicle or for families who have a relative or friend who did not come home Saturday night to call Henderson police at 270-831-1295.

Weather-permitting, the rescuers will go back in the water at 8 a.m. Monday.

PREVIOUSLY: Two people are dead and four others are missing after an SUV plunged into the Ohio River early Sunday morning.

Some campers called police and rescue squads to the scene around 3:20 a.m. Sunday.

Searchers were able to recover a Ford explorer with the driver and a passenger dead inside. One woman was able to escape and swim to shore, and she tells police she thinks there were seven people total in the car.

After an unsuccessful day of searching, several local families are afraid their loved ones may be lost.

Police are asking for anyone who may have been in the vehicle or for families who have a relative or friend who did not come home Saturday night to call Henderson police at 270-831-1295.

The search will resume at 8 a.m. Monday for the missing four passengers.

Contributions courtesy AP, All Rights Reserved.

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