Despite a desperate attempt by her husband to save her, a disability rights advocate drowned Monday night when she fell into the Sacramento River in her wheelchair after watching the riverfront Fourth of July fireworks show.
Friends and family identified her Tuesday as Laurie Hoirup, 60, a former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger appointee and writer who was preparing for her annual appearance at the California State Fair’s authors’ booth next week.
Her husband, Jacob Hoirup, said the accident occurred as he and several other people were getting off a pontoon at the Sacramento Marina after watching the fireworks on the boat.
Laurie Hoirup was on a ramp between the boat and dock when the boat shifted and caused the ramp to fall into the water. That brought Hoirup and some of the other passengers down with it, he said.
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“At the time, she went into the water and I grabbed a hold of her,” Jacob Hoirup said.
Jacob Hoirup estimated that he and his wife were roughly 15 feet underwater. Though he tried to save her, her wheelchair was too heavy and he had to go back to the surface to breathe.
When he returned underwater, he said he couldn’t find his wife. Minutes later, he and family members, as well as bystanders, were able to locate her body.
They tied the boat’s anchor around her body and were pulling her onto land when paramedics arrived, he said.
“It was too late,” Jacob Hoirup said. “She had been gone too long.”
Emergency responders first received reports of a woman in a wheelchair who had fallen into a river around 10:17 p.m., according to Chris Harvey, spokesman for the Sacramento Fire Department. Once at the scene, paramedics found a group of bystanders who were attempting to bring Laurie Hoirup back to land, he said.
Paramedics were able to get Hoirup out of the water and onto an emergency backboard, and they performed lifesaving procedures, Harvey said. She was transported to Sutter Medical Center, Sacramento, where she was pronounced dead, he said.
As a child, Laurie Hoirup was diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy, a genetic disease that disrupts the part of the nervous system that controls muscle movement.
Under Schwarzenegger, Hoirup served from 2006-10 as chief deputy director of the State Council on Developmental Disabilities, which provides services to people with disabilities. She also published books about living with disabilities and has spoken around the state and the country about her experience.
The Pocket-Greenhaven couple had owned the boat for a couple of years and bought it because it allowed Hoirup to get on and off easily, her husband said.
Family members said that the Fourth of July outing represented how Hoirup lived her life – to the fullest.
“She did so many things,” said Hoirup’s daughter Jillian Whitcomb, who was on the Monday night boat trip with her mother. “She never let her disability hold her back.”
Hoirup spent her life advocating for people with disabilities after living with spinal muscular atrophy the majority of her life and enjoying a successful life despite doctors telling her that she would never reach adulthood.
After she retired from her state position in 2010, Hoirup started writing her first book, “I Can Dance: My Life With a Disability,” which chronicled her life. The book was published in 2012, and she attended book signings and speaking engagements across the country, her husband said.
She later published two books geared toward younger readers and was working on a fourth book until her death. She also frequently wrote blog posts about her disability and invited those facing similar struggles to reach out to her, family members said.
Besides writing, Hoirup spent her time as the acting president of the Association of California State Employees with Disabilities. Last year, she was a vocal opponent of the California assisted-death legislation in 2015.
Jacob Johnson, a former association president who has known Hoirup for almost a decade, said her leadership skills brought about meaningful improvements for people with disabilities.
“(Hoirup) was a person that not only talked about great ideas but did things to make them a reality,” he said.
No funeral services are planned for Hoirup, according to family members. Hoirup is survived by her mother, husband, two children and four grandchildren.