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

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

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

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

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

The pain of Chelsey’s death is being felt by loved ones throughout the Denver area. The tragedy unfolded Tuesday. Deputies in Utah say neither Chelsey or her young son were wearing life vests when the boy went overboard. Chelsey 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,” said neighbor Janice Redfield.

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

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

Loved ones say Chelsey 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 say initial help didn’t come fast enough because of a “significant distance” that grew between the pair and the houseboat. Chelsey 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,” said Redfield.

Deputies say Chelsey was unconscious when she was pulled from the water. CPR was attempted.