It was a hot day in July last year when Raul Armando Valdez Aquino decided, for some reason, to try to swim across the American River. The 20-year-old never made it.
Months later, Jagjit Basra rushed into the same water to help his nephews. They had been swept away from Tiscornia Beach by waves from a passing boat. He, too, disappeared within minutes. He never resurfaced from the murky waves.
For too many weeks last year, this was the story.
More than a dozen people drowned on the American and Sacramento rivers – twice the average toll. Most were young men who were confident in their swimming abilities, but still got overpowered by the swift, cold water and shifting bottom.
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The problem has never been a shortage of life jackets, which are available for free at the most popular swimming holes. The problem has been people refusing to put them on. Few seem to understand – or accept – that the American and Sacramento rivers are the most dangerous places to go swimming in the region.
Getting the word out about the risks is crucial, especially this weekend when temperatures are expected to climb into the 90s for Memorial Day. Thankfully, county and city officials are being more proactive this year than they were last year.
The problem has never been a shortage of life jackets, which are available for free at the most popular swimming holes. The problem has been people refusing to put them on.
Starting this weekend and continuing all summer, Drowning Accident Rescue Teams will be patrolling the rivers in boats in case someone goes under.
They’ll also be using bullhorns to prod adults into wearing life jackets and to tell parents that their children are legally required to do so. Park rangers will be doing the same thing while walking along on the banks.
There also will be more signs warning people of the dangers. Expect to see them not only near Tiscornia Beach, where the American and Sacramento rivers converge, but upstream at beaches such as Sand Cove.
The county also purchased 2,500 more life jackets, replacing some of the older ones provided by the American River Parkway Foundation.
Children will get yellow life jackets. Adults will get orange ones that the county hopes to make more appealing with its new marketing campaign, “Life Looks Good on You.” The jackets are available at multiple locations, including at Swabbies Restaurant & Bar, upstream near the Sacramento International Airport.
Two people already have drowned in the region’s rivers this year. Let’s not add to the death toll. Wear a life jacket.