Disability advocate drowns in wheelchair after fireworks

Laurell Hoirup

The Hoirup family via CBS Sacramento

SACRAMENTO -- A Northern California man desperately tried to rescue his wife on the Fourth of July after her wheelchair plunged into the Sacramento River, but couldn't save her.

"So many people just loved her, she was so special," said Jacob Hoirup after the fireworks display ended tragically.

Laurell Lynn Hoirup drowned near the Miller Park Marina on Monday, reports CBS Sacramento. Her husband said she was trying to get off their boat and onto the dock when her wheelchair slipped into the water.

Jacob said he immediately jumped in to try and save her.

"The water was just too deep for me I couldn't find her in the dark and by the time we pulled her up it must have been at least five to seven minutes and it was just too late," he said.

The couple had been out with friends and family on their boat watching the 4th of July fireworks on the river earlier that evening.

"She had been on the boat many, many times and she loved the boat," Jacob added.

Laurell was a well-known disability rights activist who had been appointed by Governor Schwarzenegger to the state Council on developmental disabilities .

She also published several books for both adults and children -- writing about the challenges she facedthroughout her life, and the changes that need to be made.

"She wanted them to read her books to see it's okay to be different," her husband said.

Part of her work was showing others they could live an active life in a wheelchair.

"She had been everywhere we traveled, saw so much," he said.

Now her family hopes the lessons she taught live on.

"Having a disability is just about being different and that's okay," he said.

Laurell suffered from a genetic disorder and was wheelchair bound at a young age. Her husband said that didn't stop her from living her life and that's exactly what they did together.