Authorities probe death linked to a boat crash
Autopsy report awaited for ex-Richmonder who was found dead in creek
LANCASTER — Investigators continue to comb through clues to learn more about the death of Graham McCormick, a former Richmonder and Hampden-Sydney College graduate who was found dead following a boating accident in a Lancaster County creek last month.
The county sheriff’s office was first alerted that something was amiss just after 10:30 a.m. Aug. 11 when McCormick, 31, was reported missing from the Irvington home where he had been visiting friends. The person who called said the last time McCormick had been seen was by a dock near the home and said he may have fallen off the dock, said Maj. William Webb, chief deputy of the sheriff’s office.
But about an hour later, authorities said, they were alerted that McCormick’s body had been found in Carter Creek nearly 2 miles away from the home where
he had been reported missing. The sheriff’s office eventually learned through their investigation, including witness statements, that McCormick had been on a boat that crashed into a bulkhead in the water, Webb said.
“He did not fall off the dock,” Webb said in an interview last week. “He obviously died from the boating accident.”
The state medical examiner’s office has listed the cause of McCormick’s death as drowning and the manner of death as accidental. But Webb said the sheriff’s office is awaiting a final autopsy report from the medical examiner before coming to a conclusion about what killed him.
Matt Broughton, a Roanoke-based attorney for the McCormick family, said his firm also is investigating the circumstances surrounding the man’s death.
“Right now, we don’t know a lot obviously, and we are just waiting to see what is revealed,” Broughton said.
Broughton said McCormick’s family members “really miss Graham tremendously.”
“They appreciate all the outpouring from the public and their concerns and love, and they appreciate every card and letter and every positive statement and encouragement about Graham,” Broughton said. “This is an incredible young man ... very, very successful.”
McCormick, a corporate finance analyst at SunTrust Bank in Atlanta, had been visiting friends at a home in the 600 block of Glebe Road in Irvington. The home is owned by Gary Lee Hooper, a Richmond native who is a former senior vice president at the commercial real estate firm Cushman & Wakefield | Thalhimer.
Webb said Hooper was in Africa when McCormick’s body was found.
Hooper flew back and met with investigators at his home three days later, the sheriff’s office said in a search warrant filed in the case.
Hooper allowed detectives to look around his property and they noticed broken glass on the dock that Hooper could not provide an explanation for, detectives said in court papers.
They also noticed cameras around the property and were told by the alarm company that from Aug. 8 to Aug. 10, the cameras were receiving data but no images were available, the sheriff’s office said in the warrant.
The warrant also sought information from Hooper’s cellphone account, including any text messages, images or videos stored on its iCloud account.
It was during that Aug. 14 visit that detectives noticed there was damage to Hooper’s boat, a 1999 Boston Whaler, according to the court documents.
In a follow-up visit the next day, Lancaster detectives said they could see a hole in the fiberglass hull of the boat, as well as scratches to each side of the vessel and damage to the “lower unit” of the boat, the search warrant says.
Officials also said in court papers that the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries did an accident reconstruction and concluded that the boat had been in a crash that occurred near where McCormick’s body was found in the creek that flows into the Rappahannock River. The boat was also seized through a search warrant.
Detectives also said in court papers that when they found McCormick’s body, he had a cut and scratches to the left side of his head and face.
Witnesses told investigators that the night before McCormick’s body was found, they had taken a boat ride and then gone to dinner at the Trick Dog Café, the search warrant says.
Following dinner, witnesses told police they returned to the home and that McCormick was last seen drinking on the dock with two other people who told police that all three of them went to their respective rooms around 12:30 a.m. Aug. 11, the search warrant says.
Witnesses told investigators that they awoke later that morning and couldn’t locate McCormick, so they called the sheriff’s office to report him missing, according to the sheriff’s office.
Among the witnesses in the case is John Randolph Hooper, Gary Hooper’s son, according to investigators, who said the younger Hooper was at the residence while McCormick was staying there.
The younger Hooper told investigators that he remembers getting the boat off the bulkhead after it crashed but has said he does not recall who was driving the vessel, Webb said.
When reached by phone this week, Gary Hooper said he could not comment on the case, noting the investigation is continuing.
John Randolph Hooper could not be reached for comment.
No charges have been filed in the case. Lancaster Sheriff Patrick McCranie said investigators continue to probe the case seeking more information about the circumstances surrounding McCormick’s death.
“The guys are out there every day trying to place the pieces of the puzzle together,” McCranie said.
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