Whitesburg KY

Letcher County man, 20, falls to death in Virginia

The body of a 20-year-old Letcher County man was discovered Monday 100 to 150 feet below the U.S. 23 bridge in Powell Valley, Va.

He had been reported missing at about 11 a.m. Saturday, police said, and no one apparently was aware he had jumped.

Authorities doubt whether the man himself realized he was jumping to his death, as he went over on the southbound side of the bridge, Wise County Sheriff ’s Investigator W.C. Darnell said.

The man, James “Nicholas” Foss, was en route from Elizabethton, Tenn., with his aunt and nephew to Foss’s home at Cowan.

The three had stopped at the Powell Valley overlook at about midnight Friday, Darnell said, when the man broke and ran down the highway.

Foss’s mother called the Wise County Sheriff ’s Office to report him missing at about 11 a.m. Saturday, about 12 hours after he ran down the road from his relatives. Darnell said authorities had focused their search for a man on the run or wandering, and had been to hospitals and shelters in addition to searching country roadways.

When Foss had not been spotted anywhere, Darnell said, and with the snowy weather clearing, authorities returned to the bridge area Monday to search. His body was obscured in a ditch, he said, but a searcher saw his red shirt.

“It’s sheer luck we found him today,” Darnell said. “His body was almost hidden.”

From the overlook on Friday night, the man apparently ran across northbound U.S. 23, crossed the concrete barrier in the middle of the highway, ran across the southbound lanes toward the mountain and then jumped the outer concrete barrier.

It is about the same as falling from a 10- to 15-story building, Darnell said, adding that he doubted Foss realized the distance of the drop on that side of the road.

Assisting the Wise County Sheriff ’s Office were the Norton Fire Department, Big Stone Gap Fire Department, Valley Fire Department and rescue squad and a local search and rescue team, Darnell said.

Todd Lagow of the Norton Fire Department said the department used its aerial truck to extend over the side of the bridge and from there lower rescuers to the scene.

Big Stone Gap Fire Chief Billy Chandler said fire department personnel helped shut down the four- lane during the retrieval process.

Foss’s body was discovered at about 1:15 p.m. Monday.

Funeral arrangements for Foss were incomplete Tuesday night. A service will be held later in Mississippi, said a spokesman at Everidge Funeral Home in Whitesburg.

Jenay Tate is editor and publisher of The Coalfield Progress in Norton, Va.

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