Posted by: njrigg | September 20, 2010

Meeting James Ventrillo, the Boy Earl Higgins Rescued in the Los Angeles River

Meeting James Ventrillo, the Boy Earl Higgins Rescued in the Los Angeles River

By Nancy J. Rigg

In July, 2010, I had an inspiring, yet slightly bittersweet reunion with James Ventrillo, who was a 10-year old boy when my fiance, Earl Higgins, rescued him in the Los Angeles River on February 17, 1980.

We allowed National Public Radio (NPR) to capture the moment we met at the river.

Show host Madeleine Brand and the producers produced an excellent segment, called, “The River.”

The Madeleine Brand Show for September 20, 2010


“30 years ago the paths of James Ventrillo and Nancy Rigg literally crossed at the Los Angeles River. Neither would be the same again. It was 1980. Nancy and her fiancé, Earl Higgins, were taking a walk across a footbridge that spanned the river. It had been the first clear day after a series of violent rain storms. The river was high and moving fast – a rare sight in L.A. They stopped to look at the water and saw – to their horror – a young boy had just fallen in. Earl ran to the water’s edge and tried to save him. He did, but was pulled in, too. Earl wasn’t able to save himself. No one else could, either.

“For the next 30 years, Nancy dedicated herself to creating a Swift Water Rescue Program for L.A. and for all of California, a program that trains first responders in river rescue.

“She never knew what happened to the boy, James. In this story, Nancy and James meet for the first time since that fateful day 30 years ago.”

James Ventrillo, Nancy Rigg, meeting for the first time in 30 years at the Los Angeles River

The website includes the complete audio file, as well as several photos.

It was an honor to meet James and find out, after all this time, what actually happened in the water that day so many years ago.

I am preparing a longer report, which I will post soon.

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  1. Nancy, I accidentally came across this report, and I’m glad to know that you’ve met and talked with James. What an important piece of closure. It must mean a great deal to both of you. I’m sorry we’ve lost touch, but it’s nice to read about you.

  2. Nancy, I listened to your story today and broke down in tears. I don’t know anyone who has drowned, but I saw the LA River last week rear its ugly head during all the rain we have had here. For some reason, while driving on the 110 and seeing the roaring river, I told my seven year old son in the backseat that if he ever sees water that rough to stay away. Seconds later I came upon a car facing me in my lane on the 110. She had spun out and landed in my lane in perfect alignment. Without going into detail, I was in caution-mode and got around it and helped her to safety.

    Maybe your story made that incident hit home for me. It’s such a sad story but you are turning it into good by the work you have done. You have saved so many more lives than you will ever know. I hope you realize that. I’m so sorry for your loss.

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