FULTON, AR (KSLA) - The search for an Ashdown woman believed to have leapt or been knocked into the Red River early Saturday morning has been suspended until Thursday due to cold weather.
Emergency officials no longer believe 43-year-old Janis Burris-Northcross will be found alive. "We are in recovery," says Miller County Office of Emergency Management Director Larry Pritchett. "I know that is a bad thing to say, but we are in recovery."
Northcross was 1 of the 3 people who found themselves in the path of a skidding 18-wheeler around 2 a.m. Saturday on the Red River bridge, where icy conditions had just caused a 3-car wreck. Her sister managed to stay on the bridge and survived, suffering minor injuries.
51-year-old Ricky Norwood jumped from the bridge to avoid being hit by the jackknifing 18-wheeler, making the 50-foot leap into the chilly waters of the Red River. He says he acted on instinct when he dove over the rail. "I just jumped. That is the first instinct: jump or die, so I jumped."
Norwood says the impact knocked all of his clothes off except for his underwear and socks. "It was so far down there I closed my eyes when I hit the water I didn't know I hit the water until I open my eyes and I was underneath the water. I prayed to the Lord, 'Please let me make it over here,' and I made it to the bank."
Norwood is now recovering at CHRISTUS St. Michael Hospital in Texarkana, with broken ribs and a punctured lung.
Authorities believe Northcross also leapt in that terrifying moment. While Norwood says he didn't see if she leapt or was knocked off the bridge, her family insists she did not jump willingly.
Norwood recalls hearing her call for help, however, after she hit the water. "One time she said,"Help!" but I couldn't get out there."
Family members have expressed concern that the search in the hours immediately following her disappearance was suspended too soon, but Pritchett explains that the dangers of the Red River made searching at night impossible.
That search with boats, sonar and dogs resumed Saturday morning and was again suspended Saturday night until picking up again Sunday morning. Family members took to ATVs to comb the banks. By nightfall, there was still no sign of Northcross, except for a what Hempstead County Sheriff James Singleton described as a few of her personal items.
"My prayers go out to the family and I am sorry all this tragedy happened and I appreciate them stopping and trying to help save my husband," says Ricky Norwood's wife, Lillie.
As he recovers, Ricky Norwood struggles to come to terms with his survival, and Northcross' loss. "It hurt me worse that I couldn't help her and they stopped to help me that is What hurt me, because they could have went on and they stopped to help me and look what happened."
Temperatures have remained within a few degrees of 30 since Saturday, with water temperatures in the upper 40s. The search was expected to continue until nightfall on Monday, but Hempstead County Sheriff James Singleton says weather conditions forced them to suspend the search earlier.