Day after apparent drowning, few heed life-jacket law at Sacramento beach

Published: Monday, Jun. 3, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Monday, Jun. 3, 2013 - 9:19 am

The day after a 16-year-old boy apparently drowned at Sacramento's Sand Cove Park, most parents at that very park were not heeding city and county laws that require children to wear life jackets while swimming.

As temperatures soared on Sunday, it was easy to observe among the hundreds of visitors that most children wading and swimming in the Sacramento River were not using any sort of life preserver. A handful clung to foam swim noodles. But for every child that did wear a life jacket, about 20 did not.

The day before, at about noon, a 16-year-old boy succumbed to the river's cold and current, and was swept away.

The victim's name has not been released. Despite an extensive search by rescue swimmers, boat crews and a helicopter, his body has not been found.

"Based on what witnesses stated, we're presuming the victim is drowned," said Kelly McFarlane, spokeswoman for the Drowning Accident Rescue Team. "I don't think any of the kids were wearing life jackets. Unfortunately, it is common."

Sacramento city and county ordinances make it a misdemeanor for a parent or guardian to allow a child under the age of 13 to swim without a life preserver in public waters. A large wooden sign alerts visitors to the law, in multiple languages, at the entrance to Sand Cove Park.

No one was enforcing the law on Sunday. A parking enforcement officer made a brief appearance to slip tickets under windshield wipers in the overflowing lot along Garden Highway. But no police officers or lifeguards were present.

Martin Coronado of West Sacramento said he had heard about Saturday's apparent drowning. He watched his two children swimming in shallow water from an awning erected at the water's edge. Neither wore a life preserver.

One meant for his son Nico, 6, lay in the sand at his feet. The other, meant for daughter Ysa, 9, was in the boat that brought them here, which had been driven away by the children's grandfather.

Coronado said he always watches his children closely when they swim and always keeps the life jackets near. It was an oversight that Ysa's life preserver was left on the boat, he said. "I don't let them swim out too far," he said.

Nearby, Sonia Carrillo's two children were harnessed in life jackets, even though they were only playing in the sand. It is better to be safe than sorry, she said, especially when a child's life jacket can be purchased for less than $20.

"You hear so much about how unsafe the river is, so I keep them close and they always wear a life jacket," Carrillo said of her children, Ysabela, 5, and Antonio, 10. "They are so used to it now that it's automatic. They know if they want to get in the water, they have to put their life jackets on."

At many Sacramento riverfront parks, life jackets are available to borrow for the day at no charge. They hang prominently from pegs on a wooden board at many popular beaches, a public service by the Drowning Accident Rescue Team and other public agencies.

Loaner life jackets are not available at Sand Cove Park, however.

"It would probably be a good place to add them," McFarlane said.

Contact The Bee's Matt Weiser at (916) 321-1264. Follow him on Twitter @matt_weiser.

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