A medical examiner has ruled the death of a woman found in the Potomac River behind the wheel of her SUV to be accidental.

Barbara Bushkin, 72, of Fairfax County was found dead in early May after her vehicle left the Theodore Roosevelt Island parking lot and entered the river, authorities said.

Her husband, Arthur Bushkin, has said she went to a fundraiser May 5 in the District and began driving home after the event. Barbara Bushkin pulled into the parking lot off northbound George Washington Memorial Parkway, then sent text messages to friends and family members while posting to social media.

Her husband and his caregiver were waiting for her, but she never returned home.

Arthur Bushkin called police to report his wife missing and asked on social media whether anyone had seen her. On May 6, authorities found her body in the river — still strapped in the driver’s seat of her black SUV.

Cheryle E. Adams, a special assistant at the D.C. medical examiner’s office, said Barbara Bushkin died as a result of drowning.


Barbara Bushkin (Family photo)

It is not known how or why the vehicle went into the river, authorities said. D.C. police said Monday that they had no additional details on Bushkin’s case, given that it was deemed accidental in nature by the medical examiner. (The Theodore Roosevelt Island parking lot is in Virginia, but the river is the jurisdiction of District authorities.)

“This was a tragic accident,” Arthur Bushkin said of the findings, which were released earlier this month. “It’s an outcome that I would prefer never occurred.”

He said he is working to establish the “Kindness Cloud Foundation,” which has a mission of promoting kindness. He said the couple had made a lifelong promise to perform daily acts of kindness.

Barbara Bushkin’s death prompted an outpouring of support from family and friends and left many wondering what had happened.

In a May interview, Arthur Bushkin said he wondered whether his wife had stopped at the parking lot because she was not feeling well. He said she was often tired and had not been “her perky self” for about two months.

The couple was involved with and gave financially to the District nonprofit Martha’s Table. Barbara Bushkin had gone to a fundraiser there earlier in the evening on the day she went missing.

Her friends at the event said nothing appeared unusual. They said she asked questions, chatted and posed for a picture before getting into her SUV and heading home.

Arthur Bushkin said police told him that, based on text messages and calls, she left Martha’s Table about 7:50 p.m. and was in the parking lot at Roosevelt Island for about 90 minutes.

She left a message for her son in Los Angeles, posted to Facebook and wished friends a happy birthday. Then she texted her husband that she was fine and she missed him.

“It was nothing unusual,” Arthur Bushkin recalled.

The next morning, he realized his wife had not returned to their Vienna home and reported her missing. Rescuers searched the river for hours and found the SUV and her body about 500 feet from where it entered the river.

The Bushkins met nearly 60 years ago. They were high school sweethearts in Chicago, lost touch for decades, married other people, raised children and had careers before re-connecting nine years ago.

They spent part of the past seven years writing a book about their love story.

In their book — “Lifelong Valentines: An Inspirational True Story of Love, Perseverance, and Resilience” — they wrote, “We realized what had always been true: the friendship we had, and still have, was and is true love.”

A picture of the couple in the book shows them smiling in front of a birthday cake with “Never give up on love” written above the photo.