Sheriff: Vehicle crash into river that killed volunteer FF, 2 others was murder-suicide

John Dean Forbush, 24, served with the Gassaway Volunteer Fire Department for four years

Duty Death: John Dean Forbush - [Gassaway, West Virginia]

End of Service: 05/01/2022

UPDATE 4 p.m. PT

SUTTON, W.Va. — The Braxton County Sheriff's Office said that a vehicle crash into the Elk River that killed a mother, her daughter and the volunteer firefighter who tried to rescue them was a murder-suicide.

The driver has been identified as LaTonya Bell, 42, and her daughter is Havana Pipkins, 8.

The firefighter who jumped in the water in an effort to rescue them was identified as John Dean Forbush, 24, a four-year veteran of the Gassaway Volunteer Fire Department. 

A security video shows the driver accelerating through a parking area and turning into the river at a high rate of speed, WCHSTV reported.

Forbush was off-duty when he heard the first dispatch call.

According to the fire marshals, Forbush said over the radio that there appeared to be people trapped in the vehicle, and he immediately jumped into the river.

“Summersville Fire Department, from Nicholas County, also responded to the scene with Dive Rescue resources. Fire departments from around the region will continue to provide resources and support to the Gassaway VFD and the citizens of Braxton County,” the state fire marshal stated.

All three victims’ bodies have been recovered and sent to the West Virginia Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Charleston.


By Leila Merrill

SUTTON, W.Va. — A volunteer firefighter tried to rescue a woman and child from a car that went into the Elk River after a car crash Sunday, and all three died, emergency officials said.

The Braxton County Sheriff’s Department said that a woman lost control of her vehicle at about 2:30 p.m. Firefighters and police officers went into the water to try to rescue the woman and her daughter, WVMetroNews reported.

John Dean Forbush, 24, belonged to the Gassaway Volunteer Fire Department for four years, according to ABC 13.

“All of us are deeply saddened by his untimely death,” the fire department said. “Our condolences go out to his family, friends and co-workers.”

Authorities have not given a reason why the car crash happened. The Braxton County Sheriff’s Department and the state police are investigating the fatal incident.


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