Earl F. Higgins
Writer, Documentary Filmmaker

The River

by Madeleine Brand | The Madeleine Brand Show September 20 2010 [ LISTEN ]

Earl Higgins and Nancy J. Rigg at the White House in 1975 shooting a documentary about the press corps. PHOTO: FRANK JOHNSTON

Thirty 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.

Jacob Margolis/KPCC
Nancy Rigg and James Ventrillo
meet for the first time in 30 years.

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.

Nancy created the Drowning Support Network as “a peer support group for people who have lost loved ones in drownings or other aquatic accidents, including when no physical remains have been recovered, or the recovery process has been lengthy and difficult.”

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