Men who drowned at Ruedi Reservoir identified as valley locals John Teague and Bret Varra
July 23, 2018
The men who died Saturday at Ruedi Reservoir were friends who had their boats tied together when one struggled in the water and the other jumped in to help him.
Eagle County Coroner Kara Bettis identified the victims Sunday night as John Teague, 46, who died after jumping into the water to help James "Bret" Varra, 59, who was having difficulty in the water, according to the Pitkin County Sheriff's Office. Both men lived in Carbondale.
Bettis said no other information would be released until the autopsies are finished. She said those should be completed this week.
Teague grew up in Aspen and went to Aspen High School, according to his Facebook page, and Varra grew up in Carbondale.
"All indications are that this is a tragic accident," Alex Burchetta, Pitkin County Sheriff's Office patrol director, said Sunday morning. Burchetta was on scene for four hours at the reservoir Saturday.
According the Sheriff's Office, two boats were tied together away from the shore when one man, Varra, went swimming and struggled. That's when Teague jumped in.
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"A female witness on one of the boats stated that one of the men had been swimming away from his boat and began to have difficulty swimming. The second man, from one of the tied-up boats, jumped into the water to assist the struggling man and he too began to experience swimming difficulties," according to the Sheriff's Office release. "One of the men had already slipped under the surface of the water, and the second man went under the surface of the water as a 'rescue boat' from the Aspen Yacht Club arrived. Both men were not seen again."
Ralph Gunning of El Jebel had just left the Aspen Yacht Club with friends and was driving the boat that was on the scene after both men were in the water and a woman on the boats, which were tied together, was screaming for help.
"I said, 'That didn't sound like a happy scream,'" Gunning recalled Sunday afternoon in a phone interview. "That's when we saw two boats tied together across from the Yacht Club cove."
He said one of the engines was running and the boats were spinning as the panicked woman was searching for the men.
"I saw something in the water. I thought it was a dog. All I saw was brown hair. Had I known it was a human, I would have got in water sooner," Gunning said. "She told us two people were in water. I dove in and searched for about a half-hour. Then I got back in the boat and we did passes with a fish-finder and I would dive back in when we saw something."
He said he searched for about 45 minutes, then took the GPS coordinates and went back to the yacht club dock to pick up law enforcement officials and took them back out.
A rescue/dive team from the Summit County Sheriff's Office was called in and found the bodies about 20 to 30 feet below the surface and got them to shore about 12:15 a.m. Sunday morning after three hours of searching.