Death on the River: Drowning raises questions |

Death on the River: Drowning raises questions

Jennifer Brown
The Denver Post

Editor’s note: The is part of “Death on the River,” an in-depth series published by The Denver Post. More at

The loss of their 11-year-old son in the Arkansas River a year ago devastated Drake Durkee’s family, setting them on a path to improve river safety. Since Drake got caught below the rapids, seven more people on guided rafting trips have died in Colorado.

Melissa and Dan Durkee reached Big Drop Rapid near midnight, the roar of the Arkansas River filling their ears as they peered over the edge.

When their flashlight rays gleamed upon the river, churning with rage and spitting out whitewater as it pumped through the rocky canyon, Melissa’s stomach lurched, again. She wondered, this time with more sickening fear than ever, if there was any chance her son was still alive.

They had walked 7 miles down railroad tracks, led by the rafting company owner, to reach the spot in Brown’s Canyon where 11-year-old Drake had fallen into the river hours earlier on June 10, 2015. Drake had been on a commercial trip booked while on a summer getaway with his grandparents and his brother. Melissa said OK because she thought it was a scenic float, not the turbulent whitewater now below her.

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