Death of Alford canoeist is ruled an accident


STOCKBRIDGE -- The Berkshire District Attorney's Office says the death of an Alford man in a canoe mishap on the Housatonic River early Saturday morning appears to be a "tragic accident."

Meanwhile, the investigation continues and an autopsy report is pending.

"At this point, it appears to have been a tragic accident," said Frederick Lantz, a spokesman for Berkshire District Attorney David Capeless. "There does not appear to be anything suspicious at this time about the incident."

The body of Rupert Norris Vonbockbrader, 21, of Green River Road in Alford, was recovered near where the canoe capsized, in the vicinity of Butler and Glendale Middle roads in Stockbridge. Authorities say the incident happened around 2 a.m.

About 60 public safety personnel were involved in the search, rescue and recovery effort from 2:30 until 11:30 on Saturday morning.

As many as four of Vonbockbrader's friends had taken turns in pairs riding in the canoe, Stockbridge Police Chief Richard "Rick" Wilcox said.

Peter Mays, 25, of Great Barrington; Sergio Del Molino, 19, of Stockbridge; Galen Grove, 19, of Monterey; and Lincoln Lepine, 22, of Monterey, later helped rescue personnel at the scene, said Wilcox.

Barbara Bockbrader told The Eagle that she has been in contact with her son's friends.

"I think their burden is the heaviest of all," she said. "Most of all, they need our loving thoughts."

Bockbrader said a celebration of her son's life will be held early on Sunday evening at the business she co-owns with her husband and Rupert's father, Robin Norris, at Campo de'Fiori on Route 7 in Sheffield. Rupert Norris Vonbockbrader is also survived by a sister, Camilla Norris.

Bockbrader praised Wilcox for his comment to The Eagle in the immediate aftermath of the accident.

"It was really tragic," he stated. "It was a bunch of young kids intending to have a good time."

Mays, Lepine, Grove and Del Molino were in seclusion on Monday, preparing a memorial wreath decorated with paper cranes and peace symbols for Vonbockbrader, said Renzo Del Molino, Sergio's father.

According to Renzo Del Molino, the four young men are badly shaken, filled with guilt, regret and sadness that they were unable to rescue their friend.

Renzo Del Molino said he was "stumped" by the accident since the five young men were all experienced canoeists. "They've canoed through there hundreds of times," he added.

"These are good, kind-hearted, compassionate, sensitive, innocent kids," he said. "It's a tough time for them, the first time they've had to face something like this."

According to the police report, Mays called police for help from a nearby house on Glendale Road immediately after the accident. Mays was then transported to Berkshire Medical Center by Lee Ambulance, where he was treated for exposure and hypothermia before being released.

Stockbridge Police Officer Rosario Messina was the first responder to the call for help.

The massive search, rescue and recovery operation included the Stockbridge, Lenox and New Marlborough fire departments, which brought boats to the scene, the Berkshire County Dive Team, Massachusetts State Police, State Environmental Police, and a State Police Air Wing helicopter deployed from Westover Air Base. Lenox and Lee Ambulance squads both responded to the scene.

State Police Detective Brian Berkel is leading the investigation. Berkel is assigned to the DA's office as part of the Crime Prevention and Control unit.

To contact Clarence Fanto: or
(413) 637-2551.
On Twitter: @BE_cfanto.


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