A local runner died yesterday morning trying to navigate the Oregon Hill Trail, nearly drowning in the James River before succumbing to dysentery, police said.
Don Heinemann’s body was discovered around 6:30 a.m. on the shore of the riverbank, having left his home in the Southside en route to Oregon Hill. Police lieutenant Phyllis Rotstein said the 37-year-old banker decided he would be fine on the trail with only one pair of socks, a fully-charged iPod, spare wagon parts and three yoke of oxen.
After jogging nearly four miles, crossing Forest Hill Avenue and stopping to chat with locals at Chimney Rock, police said the runner arrived at the river. He hoped to cross into Oregon Hill, Richmond’s historic neighborhood that overlooks the James, Rotstein said.
“Unfortunately, his career as a banker meant he had a lot of money, but he did not have enough to purchase a ferry ride,” she said, noting he was faced with two other decisions: attempting to swim or caulking his Conestoga wagon.
After a failed attempt to ford the James, Heinemann was nearly swept away in the rapids. He lost his water-bottle belt, iPod, 800 pounds of food and three boxes of bullets, Rotstein said.
“Unfortunately for Mr. Heinemann, one of the wagon wheels also broke and he did not have the skills necessary to fix it,” Rotstein said. “He should have chosen to be a carpenter.”
Because Heinemann left so early in the morning – police said around 4 a.m. – he was subjected to the early morning cold. Nearly an hour after he left, police believe he changed his jogging pace from “strenuous” to “steady” before coming down with a fever. Slowly, minor intestinal problems began and he was eventually brought down by dysentery, Rotstein said.
She added that the runner may have made it to Oregon Hill had he left in July instead of January, stopped at Fort Hall, or taken the Barlow toll road. However, she said, while warmer months allow for a nicer run, Heinemann would have been subjected to the threat of typhoid, cholera or the measles.
Paul Rawitsch, an attorney and spokesman for the family, said Heinemann jumped at every opportunity he had – even recess – to jog the Oregon Hill Trail, “many times learning a little bit of history about the area and improving his problem-solving skills, without even knowing it.”
A memorial service will be held tomorrow, Rawitch said. Locals attempting to navigate the treacherous trail can also view Heinemann’s tombstone and its included fifth grader-age vulgarities on the epitaph.