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Lehigh River canoeing victim's family reacts to death

By John Craven, Reporter, JCraven@wfmz.com
Published On: Jun 23 2013 05:53:09 PM CDT
Updated On: Jun 24 2013 05:00:47 AM CDT

Canoeist's family reacts

NORTHAMPTON, Pa. -

The coroner now confirms that a body found Friday night in the Lehigh River was a canoeist who went missing a week earlier.

Jeff LaCava's family tells 69 News that he was an experienced boater who knew the river well.

Longtime girlfriend Valerie Jenkins just lost the love of her life.

"I'll never be able to hold him again," she said. "I'll never see him walk through the door. He won't walk the girls down the aisle."

Jenkins and LaCava were together for 25 years. Last weekend, LaCava's canoe overturned on the Lehigh River near his home in Northampton.

"The witnesses did say that he did go over the falls the correct way," said Jenkins. "He just capsized after it."

After a week-long search, boaters found LaCava's body Friday night, several miles downstream near the Tilghman Street Bridge in Allentown.

"Longest week of my life," said Jenkins.

LaCava was a former Coast Guardsman and an expert canoeist, according to his family.

"He liked to go on the canoe and paddle," said his young son, Chase.

Jenkins added: "He took a canoe down the Lehigh Gorge, which I thought he was insane then."

Unfortunately for LaCava's family, his death is the latest in a series of tragedies they have faced.

"He had just started work three weeks ago," said Jenkins. "He was a construction worker. The market started going down for construction, so his business failed, and we could no longer pay our rent and we lost our home."

LaCava and Jenkins have lived with relatives since then, but were hoping to finally get their own home again. Now, she and their four children aren't sure how they're going to pay for his funeral.

"It's a relief that they found him," said Jenkins. "I just wish it would have been any other way."