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Kayaker Dies After Falling Into River in Va.

Fishermen Pulled D.C. Man, 62, From the Potomac in Prince William County

By Ian Shapira
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 12, 2004; Page B03

A 62-year-old District man died yesterday afternoon after he fell into the Potomac River while kayaking off the Prince William County shoreline, police said.

Michael Schoenfeld, who had been kayaking with a Maryland woman near Neabsco Creek, was found in the water by a passing fisherman about 11:30 a.m., county police and rescue authorities said.

"We don't know if it was a medical condition that caused him to go in the water or if he just went over in the water," said Detective Dennis Mangan, a Prince William County police spokesman.

A commercial fisherman and his two mates picked up Schoenfeld and brought him ashore into a marina at Neabsco Creek in the Woodbridge area, where rescue workers tried to revive him. Shoenfeld was taken to Potomac Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 12:28 p.m., Mangan said.

Witnesses described a frantic scene in the creek as fishermen and a marina manager sought help. Shoenfeld's kayaking companion, whom police did not identify, was so far ahead of him that she apparently did not hear the fisherman's efforts to alert her, Mangan said.

As the fishing boat came into the EZ Cruz Marina carrying Shoenfeld, the fisherman was yelling, "Call 911! Call 911! We found a body in the water!" according to the marina's manager, Michael Hart, who called for help on his cell phone.

"I saw medics doing CPR on the gentleman," said Donald Hill, owner of the neighboring Pilot House Marina. "The winds were blowing. It was pretty rough, pretty intense. They shouldn't have been kayaking."

Rescue personnel picked up Shoenfeld's companion and took her and the kayaks safely to the marina.

Shoenfeld's wife of 30 years, Kathleen McMillan, 60, said her husband had been kayaking for the past three years as a member of the Chesapeake Paddlers Association, a Maryland-based group that promotes sea kayaking, according to its Web site.

"He just liked being so close to the water and the quiet, being able to explore and see the wildlife," she said, adding that her husband, like virtually all kayakers, always wore a life jacket.

Schoenfeld had been an administrative law judge with various federal government departments for the last 20 years, she said. His most recent position was with the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

Police said Shoenfeld and his companion had set off yesterday morning from Mason Neck in Fairfax County.

Mangan called Shoenfeld's death an accident. An autopsy will be performed this week, Mangan said.

The National Weather Service said an average wind speed of 15 knots had been forecast along the Potomac River in that area yesterday. Small craft warnings are issued at 20 knots.

"Was it possible for him to be angled in the wrong direction and catch a stronger gust? Absolutely. There could have been a lot of fluctuation in the wind speed," said Howard Silverman, a National Weather Service forecaster.

Researcher Bobbye Pratt contributed to this report.


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