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Folsom Lake drowning victim’s remains returned to family 21 years after death

Oleg Zheleznikov was 29 years old when he drowned at Folsom Lake in June 1996. His remains were recovered in November 2015 and identified in June 2018.
Oleg Zheleznikov was 29 years old when he drowned at Folsom Lake in June 1996. His remains were recovered in November 2015 and identified in June 2018. El Dorado County Sheriff's Office

The remains of a Russian man who drowned in Folsom Lake in 1996 have been returned to his daughter and taken home to Russia, according to the El Dorado County Sheriff’s Office.

Oleg Zheleznikov was 29 years old when he, two other Russian citizens, a boat captain and a translator went sailing on Folsom Lake on June 21, 1996, according to the release. During the trip, Zheleznikov jumped out of the boat and into the water to swim while the sails were still up.

He was not seen again despite searches of the water by his party and the Sheriff’s Office dive team. The water that day was extremely murky and offered little to no visibility.

Zheleznikov’s skeletal remains were not found until November 2015, when a 12-year-old boy walking along the Folsom Lake waterfront discovered them. The historic California drought from 2011 to 2017 is thought to have helped with the discovery.

The remains were analyzed by an anthropology team from California State University, Chico and the Sacramento County Coroner’s Office, who were able to provide a general description, but not an identity. Thanks to a tip regarding the 1996 drowning, as well as talking to the boat captain and translator from the trip, the remains were suspected to be Zheleznikov’s.

At the time of his death, Zheleznikov left behind a wife and an 8-year-old daughter. In order to positively identify the remains, they needed a DNA sample from his daughter, Yulia. With assistance from FBI offices in Sacramento and Moscow, the Sheriff’s Office positively identified the remains in June 2018, 20 years after his death.

The Sheriff’s Office and an FBI Sacramento Division Victim Specialist arranged a flight and hotel accommodations for Yulia to retrieve her father’s remains. She flew in on Oct. 5 and was received by a deputy and his wife, both of whom are fluent in Russian.

After spending a few days around El Dorado County, Yulia received her father’s urn at Green Valley Mortuary on Oct 7 and returned to Russia a few days later.

Mack Ervin III covers breaking news and high school sports for The Bee. A journalism student at Sacramento State, he follows auto racing and most other sports.
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