Hero’s death on Raccoon River raises concern over water safety measures

DES MOINES, Iowa — For the past 13 years, Ricco Morrow had been a role model for his daughter.

“He was always about the kids. He loved the youth and doing stuff for the youth,” said Ricco’s brother and best friend Jay Hanson.

After his death on July 3rd, Hanson says one word will forever be used for his brother. “Hero, hero, hero,” he said.

The Van Meter Police Department says the 34- year-old was tubing with friends along the Raccoon River near Van Meter and was out of the water near a construction site when a woman and her teenage son began to struggle while being sucked under the water.

“You have the river feeding into these large metal tubes causing multiple vortexes and they shoot out the other side,” said Hanson.

Ricco, an athlete whose family says was a great swimmer saved both the mother and son but in his efforts he never resurfaced. Hanson said, “They believe he felt himself pulling them down as well so Ricco let go of the hand and went under and he never came back up.”

At the scene, Jay had a chance to see the raw power of the water that took his brother’s life. He recorded a video of himself throwing a basketball into the vortex. The ball was quickly swallowed up and the river spit it back out on the other side of one of the metal tubes. “A lot of it made me sick to my stomach to think he might still be down there.”

Jay commends the search and rescue teams for eventually finding his brother two miles downstream on July 5th but even first responders were stunned by Ricco’s actions that day to save lives. Hanson said, “I need people to understand the heroism of this. They only searched the side going out and they never searched the pipe because it was too dangerous for divers to be there.”

Ten days later in Des Moines, the Raccoon River took the life of 11-year-old Diamond Mathis who fell off a flotation device while swimming with friends.

Community activist Rob Johnson said, “There are moments and opportunities for us as a community to say ‘Hey as a community we are not ok with losing anybody,’ but we lost two lives that are a part of our community and we don’t want that to happen to anybody else’s community.”

The boat ramp near Water Works was used for the search and recovery efforts of Diamond Mathis. Some in the community, like Johnson and Hanson, hope technological efforts can be made to make sure it’s used more for recreation and not for recovery. “If something happened at Adventureland we would shut that ride down. If something happened on the interstate for a moment we would shut that interstate down for a moment,” said Johnson.

Through tragedy, may come progress. Hanson said, “That’s the last thing when you are on the river relaxing. The last thing you have to expect is to have to fight for your life.”

Warning signs have always been located in the area. Since Ricco’s death, access to the river near the construction site is completely shut down. Van Meter Police Departement officials have also said they are in favor of adding even more warning signs that would go well above and beyond state requirements.

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