NEW RICHMOND - When the Ohio River ravaged New Richmond in early March, John Shropshire lent his boat to the fire department to rescue residents trapped by the rising water.
In ensuing days, he plowed his small metal boat through high, muddy water so people could return to their homes and salvage their belongings.
Friday, New Richmond residents were trying to comprehend the cruel coincidence that claimed Mr. Shropshire's life. The 48-year-old resident of the Clermont County river town drowned in the Ohio River Thursday night after the boat he had used to help flood victims capsized in wind-blown waters.
"He just wanted to help people," said his sister, Lou Ann White of Colerain Township. "He had a big heart."
Mr. Shropshire and his companion, Bonnie Kreuter, were returning to New Richmond in his boat at 7 p.m. Thursday after fishing at Big Indian Creek.
The creek runs off the Ohio River at Point Pleasant, a half-mile upriver from New Richmond.
On Friday, Ms. Kreuter tearfully recounted the tragedy while standing with Ms. White and several friends in the back yard of the two-apartment house where she and Mr. Shropshire lived.
Because the water near the Ohio shore was rough, they tried to cross the river to ride along the Kentucky shore, where the water looked calmer, she said.
''We were almost halfway across when a big wave came and turned the boat over,'' she said.
Ms. Kreuter said Mr. Shropshire thought they should stay with the boat until they were rescued, but she decided to try to swim to the Ohio shore in freezing water.
''While I was swimming, he would holler to me every so often, 'Are you OK, honey?' and I would answer him,'' Ms. Kreuter said. ''But then he didn't holler no more and I didn't see him.''
Shortly after rescuers arrived, a New Richmond firefighter recovered Mr. Shropshire's body close to the Ohio shore. Efforts to revive him were unsuccessful, said Lt. Steve Wilson of the Clermont County Sheriff's Department.
''He was a good swimmer,'' said Ms. White. ''The river must have been really bad.''
New Richmond Police Chief Landon Williams said the river was too rough Thursday for Mr. Shropshire's small boat.
''There were a lot of whitecaps out there,'' he said.
Mr. Shropshire was a carpenter and a welder for Richard Goettle Inc., a construction firm in Pleasant Run.
''John was a key guy for us,'' said Tom Buzek, company chairman. ''He had more skills than a lot of the guys we have around here. He was real easy to work with.''
Ms. White said it was hard to believe her brother, a diehard fisherman, had died on the river he loved so much.
''He's lived on the river all his life,'' she said.