The cause of death for a man who died Tuesday after the raft he was in flipped in the Durango Whitewater Park remains undetermined.
“The death certificate says pending,” La Plata County Coroner Jann Smith said, after an autopsy was performed Wednesday afternoon. “It’s going to come down to the lab work.”
The question forensic pathologist Dr. Robert Kurtzman will try to answer with the lab results, which can take from one to three weeks, is whether Farmington resident Jose Soto, 56, drowned or died of cardiac arrest.
Lt. Ray Shupe from the Durango Police Department said Soto was on the Animas River with a professional rafting company, but he didn’t know which one. He was rafting with family members.
“After his raft flipped, a second raft that was behind pulled him out of the water,” Shupe said.
Medics who happened to be in Santa Rita Park began CPR immediately. Rafters went to the Durango Chamber of Commerce, which is in the park, to borrow the automated external defibrillator placed there by Heart Safe La Plata, said Jack Llewellyn, executive director of the chamber.
The Animas was running well above average for this time of year at 4,030 cubic feet per second as of 4:30 p.m. Tuesday. The median daily discharge for June 16 is 2,820 cfs.
“Smelter Rapid has always been a treacherous rapid,” Shupe said, “and at high water, it’s even more treacherous. I can’t say it’s too dangerous now, but a lot of professional river guides are knowledgeable, and will look at it, and say it’s too high and portage around it.”
It was an intense scene, said Kathy Myrick, executive director of the San Juan Symphony.
“I just happened to be in Santa Rita Park photographing after work last night and was able to witness the entire sequence of events related to the raft overturning,” she said. “The man being pulled ashore, the medics’ quick action, the ambulance and police arriving, the 25 minutes of nonstop CPR and the family’s anguish as they stood by. I must say, our first responders did one awesome job. They could not have done more to save this man’s life. Unfortunately, it was not to be.”