Mom who died while saving son from drowning was accomplished attorney, athlete

LAKEWOOD, Colo. -- Chelsey Russell, a mother of two, died Tuesday in southern Utah while saving the life of her toddler. The family was vacationing on a houseboat when her son went overboard.

“She just always was smiling all the time,” University of Denver law professor K.K. DuVivier said.

Russell is being remembered as an all-star law student who went on to become an accomplished attorney. At 33, she was an executive council member of the Colorado Bar Association.

“She just really was in the prime of her life,” DuVivier said. “She was just -- I’d say a ray of sunshine. I’m still just devastated because she was always so nice.”

The pain of Russell's death is being felt by loved ones throughout the Denver area.

The tragedy unfolded Tuesday when deputies in Utah said neither Russell nor her young son were wearing life vests when the boy went overboard. Russell immediately jumped into the water.

“It’s what a mother would do -- your instinct would just tell you, get in that water and get him out,” neighbor Janice Redfield said.

Redfield said the Russell family moved to Lakewood a few months ago.

“[Russell was] very excited to move into this neighborhood because of the park and the kids at the park,” Redfield said. “She was very athletic.”

Loved ones said Russell was a woman with incredible endurance, known for running marathons and mountain climbing.

But all of her strength could only go so far on Tuesday. Deputies said initial help didn’t come fast enough because of a “significant distance” that grew between the pair and the houseboat.

Russell was able to hold her son above water just long enough for the boy to be pulled from the water.

“I think it’s one of the saddest things that’s ever happened,” Redfield said.

Deputies said Russell was unconscious when she was pulled from the water. CPR was attempted.