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Another drowning in Sacramento River; search for body is on

Members of the Drowning Accident Rescue Team of the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department look for the body of a 24-year-old man who drowned south of the confluence of the Sacramento and American rivers on Sunday.
Members of the Drowning Accident Rescue Team of the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department look for the body of a 24-year-old man who drowned south of the confluence of the Sacramento and American rivers on Sunday. pkitagaki@sacbee.com

Authorities were working Sunday to recover the body of a drowning victim near the confluence of the Sacramento and American rivers, marking the fifth drowning in the same popular but dangerous stretch of river in the last three weeks.

Fire officials said the victim was a 24-year-old man believed drowned after entering the Sacramento River side of Tiscornia Beach around 12:30 p.m. Sunday. Officials didn’t release or confirm the victim’s name.

Tiscornia Beach and Discovery Park are local staples for people cooling off on hot days, with many summer afternoons resembling a large backyard barbecue. Yet the area is once again showing its dangerous side as a combination of debris, steep drop-offs in the river bed and swirling currents have proven deadly.

“Discovery Park has historically been a dangerous place to swim,” said Sacramento Fire Department spokesman Chris Harvey.

With more than two months of summer left, the Sacramento area is headed for an above-average year for river drownings. The region averages eight drowning deaths annually on its waterways.

The previous drowning claimed the life of Aasha Sharma, a 31-year-old woman who was swept away July 6 near the same spot as Sunday’s accident while wading with at least five others. Another woman drowned June 28 in the American River during a gathering of boats and revelers called Rage on the River.

The prevalence of local river drownings has inspired a push for more safety measures, including city and county ordinances that require children under 13 to wear life vests. Free life vests are already distributed by the American River Park Foundation at six access points, but lifeguards trained in swift-water rescue are not posted along the rivers, which officials said was due to the significant expense for Sacramento County’s parks system.

The largest cluster of river drownings has been concentrated at Tiscornia and Discovery parks, the site of Sunday’s drowning. That means even if lifeguards were posted there, they would still have to manage the rivers’ unpredictable currents and cold, murky waters.

Curtis Juniel, 20, of Sacramento said he and the victim in Sunday’s incident had joined friends and family at Tiscornia Beach to grill hot dogs and cool off as afternoon temperatures climbed into the 90s. The scene quickly turned deadly as the two swam past a drop-off not far from the shore.

“I swam up and swam back, and as I came back I saw him dog paddling,” Juniel said. “I went back out there and grabbed his arm, and we both kept going underwater. I kept trying to pull him, but at that point I felt my body get weak, like I couldn’t make it. I was able to push off and swim back.”

Harvey said emergency personnel, including members of the Drowning Accident Rescue Team from the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department, spent about 80 minutes trying to rescue the missing man but changed tactics when they failed to find him.

Harvey said it could take two or three days to find the body. A diver, Robert Green, said visibility of just two to three feet and a fast-moving current were impeding the search.

Ashiah Scharaga: 916-321-1083, @AshiahD

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