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Stolen vehicle lands on Rivanna River bank

The early morning crew of walkers and joggers along the banks of the Rivanna River in Charlottesville spotted something out of place among the regular sights of flora and fauna: a motor vehicle, engine on but empty, parked in the river’s flood plain.

"I’m super curious about why somebody would want to drive a car into the river," Woolen Mills resident Bill Emory told The Daily Progress. "I mean, what in the world?"

Emory said he came upon the misplaced motorcar in Riverside Park while on a walk at daybreak.

"We got a call that says there’s a car by the river running," a dispatcher could be heard announcing at around 7:12 a.m. on police radio. "Be advised I’m also holding a call on Riverside Avenue for a stolen blue 2007 Honda Accord."

Riverside Avenue abuts the park, and photographs taken by Emory show a vehicle matching that description. Later, however, the dispatcher asserted that a check of the license plate brought up a vehicle based in the Fluvanna County town of Palmyra and not reported as stolen. At least not yet.

Back at the park, five minutes after the initial dispatch, an officer got on the radio with his report from the riverbank.

"I’m not real sure who we need to call," the officer could be heard saying, "but this vehicle is down the embankment, down the stairs and almost into the river."

The photos taken by Emory show the vehicle at rest against a river boulder. His pictures, along with tire tracks still visible on the grass and small bits of debris remaining on site later in the week, as a trio of helmeted children on scooters zipped past pedestrians, show what happened.

The sedan appears to have entered Riverside Park via the park’s access road and then burst through the wooden fence at the perimeter of the grassy playground area. Although constructed of 6-inch-by-6-inch timbers, that fence proved no match for the momentum of a moving vehicle making its way toward the Rivanna River.

The vehicle appears to have shed its front bumper shortly after crashing through the wooden fence on its way to the stairway that serves as a public launch for kayaks and canoes.

The incident surprised Gabe Silver. The co-owner of the Rivanna River Company, which rents out canoes, kayaks, paddleboards and tubes for river-goers, helped organize a team of volunteers to rebuild that stairway about three years ago after flood damage.

"That’s crazy," Silver told The Daily Progress when informed that a car appears to have scraped its ways down both the stairs and accompanying "boat slide" that his team built in 2021.

Informed that the facilities appear to have received only cosmetic damage, Silver expressed relief.

"If it didn’t hurt it too much, I’ll take that as a sign of our construction methods," said Silver.

The Rivanna River incident was unrelated to another auto theft reported on Tuesday.

That afternoon around 1:30 p.m., Charlottesville police pursued on foot two suspects wanted for a second theft. During that chase, one of the suspects, a student at Charlottesville High School, fled into the school, police said in a statement. Police said that both suspects were later captured.

However, the incursion caused the school to go into a 20-minute “stay put, stay tuned” protocol, a form of lockdown in which instruction continues behind locked classroom doors, according to a Charlottesville City Schools spokeswoman.

The spokeswoman informed The Daily Progress the student was let past a locked exterior door by a peer inside the school. That action, according to an email to parents, violated school safety training; disciplinary action is pending.

Police spokesman Kyle Ervin told The Daily Progress that there was no connection between the incidents at Charlottesville High and Riverview Park.

While there is no suspect identified yet in the river matter, according to Ervin, the Honda found by the Rivanna River was determined to be stolen.

"The owner did not know his car was stolen until they found the vehicle by the river in Riverview Park," Ervin said.


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