Crew Coach's Body Is Recovered
Loss of 'Excellent Swimmer' in Potomac Incident Bewilders Friends
By Eric Rich
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, June 28, 2004; Page B02
The body of college student and crew coach John Steve Catilo was found in the Potomac River early yesterday, two days after he fell from a small boat while teaching novices how to row a nine-person shell.
A man fishing on his boat in the Potomac about 100 yards south of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge saw the body and called Alexandria's fire and rescue department about 8 a.m., according to Sgt. Jeffrey Blevins of the D.C. Harbor Police. The body, which Alexandria Fire Department workers recovered and carried to shore at Jones Point, was found about two miles south of where Catilo had tumbled into the water.
While word of the recovery spread, friends at the University of Virginia, where the 20-year-old they knew as John Steve would have been a senior this fall, struggled to understand his death.
"I just can't comprehend how that happened," said Huailing Zheng, 22, of Roanoke, a close friend and former roommate. "John Steve has always been quite athletic and an excellent swimmer. I just don't get it."
Catilo rowed at Alexandria's T.C. Williams High School and had returned each summer after his 2001 graduation to teach with a program run by a crew boosters organization. His death came nine months after the death of another student from that close community of crew enthusiasts.
Schuyler Jones, 16, who made varsity crew at the high school, was fatally beaten in Old Town Alexandria in September. He was killed by two youths who, according to police, were incited by a third youth with a long-standing grudge against the rower. In March, more than 300 friends and admirers of Jones's gathered at the Alexandria Schools Rowing Facility to christen a racing shell the Schuyler Hamilton Jones.
"It is a very close-knit community, like a family, and losing both of those young men has hit us all hard," said Skip Bea, a member of the Alexandria Crew Boosters Club.
"When Schuyler died, the messages that flowed in from other programs and even other parts of the country were just heartwarming," he said. In many cases, rowers know one another through competitions, he said. "In John Steve's case, there are a lot of kids from outside T.C. Williams who know him because he's been coaching them" in the summer crew program.
Friends yesterday recalled Catilo as an ambitious and hardworking young man who loved to row crew and rarely seemed idle. Scott Evans, 21, of Richmond, who belonged to the Phi Delta Theta fraternity with Catilo, described him as reserved and hardworking, determined to become a doctor. "He was very moral, very honorable. He really tried to hold himself to the highest standard," Evans said. "He was very dedicated and determined, very smart."
Search teams had called off the effort to find Catilo's body Saturday, citing murky waters and a powerful undertow. On Friday, Catilo's motorboat had stalled as he was teaching novices how to row. When he stood up to restart the engine, he lost his balance and fell into the river. The students, on the water for only their second day, rowed to shore to call police, authorities said. A nearby kayaker threw a flotation device toward where Catilo went down, but he never came up to grab it.
Neither Catilo nor the eighth-, ninth- and 10th-grade students he was overseeing were wearing lifejackets.
The Virginia medical examiner's office was to perform an autopsy yesterday or today to determine the cause of death.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company
On Saturday, before Catilo's body was found, friends gathered at the Alexandria Crew Boathouse to mourn his loss. For several summers, Catilo coached with crew programs.
(Michael Robinson-chavez -- The Washington Post)