Crime - Sacto 911

Boys drown after driving ATV into Placer County pond

Two small boys drowned Sunday when the kid-sized all-terrain vehicle they were riding crashed into a pond in rural Placer County.

The California Highway Patrol reported that the boys, ages 5 and 3, died despite lifesaving efforts by a father who jumped into the lake and pulled both boys ashore.

One of the boys was listed on the Sacramento County Coroner’s website as Blake Lee Cronkhite, 5, of Lincoln. The other child, who was 3 years old, was identified Monday night as Jayden James Secrest of Citrus Heights.

CHP officer David Martinez said Monday the agency’s investigation has focused on how the boys ended up in the pond and to what extent they were being supervised by the adults while riding. However, he said, the event is being listed as “a motor vehicle accident.” Nobody has been cited or arrested in the incident.

Investigators said the boys were riding a 50cc ATV on Sunday afternoon in the driveway of a home in the 5100 block of Wise Road, part of the gated Crosswater community between Lincoln and Auburn. The 5-year-old was driving, and the younger boy was on the back, the CHP said.

The 50cc ATV is one of the smallest gas-powered all-terrain vehicles, Martinez said. It’s widely considered a beginner’s four-wheeler and is marketed as appropriate for children. It was brought to the property by someone other than the property owner.

Blake lived at the residence with his family. Jayden was his friend.

The boys’ fathers and another man were at the property when the accident occurred. The boys rode the ATV to a large pond, where they lost control and were thrown into the water, Martinez said. They were both wearing helmets, the CHP said.

“The dads were working on the property and at some point lost sight of the kids,” Martinez said. He didn’t specify the type of work they were doing.

He said no witnesses interviewed by CHP investigators “actually saw the boys drive into the pond.” But he said a witness reported seeing the ATV floating and the father of the 5-year-old running into the pond to try to save the boys.

The CHP said the boys’ fathers, who haven’t been interviewed by investigators, performed CPR on them, as did arriving paramedics.

Two helicopters airlifted the boys to UC Davis Medical Center where they were pronounced dead. Blake’s death is listed on the coroner’s website as occurring at 6:55 p.m. Sunday, while Jayden’s death is listed at 6:07 p.m.

Blake’s parents, identified by the coroner as Brandon and Sarah Cronkhite, could not be reached Monday. Jayden’s parents were identified as William Secrest and Nicole Valenzuela.

Martinez said the CHP is conducting the investigation because the incident involved a vehicle.

The Crosswater community, where the accident occurred, is set in grassy oak-studded hills and surrounded by rural properties, some with goats, cows and horses. A neighbor who lives just outside the community gates said it is common in the area to see kids riding mini-ATVs.

Maria Countryman, a mother of five, said visiting family members taught some of her kids to operate the vehicles when they were as young as three years old. She said her kids started out, under supervision, with battery-operated ATVs and then moved up to gas-powered models.

“It is a different way of life out here. There’s so much property, they can just ride,” she said. “It’s normal. They all learn to ride around here.”

California state law prohibits children 13 and under from operating an all-terrain vehicle on public land without adult supervision. Youths between 14 and 17 years old must either have an ATV safety certificate or be supervised by an adult who has the certificate. But the law doesn’t apply to ATV use on private property.

The mini-sized ATVs are marketed to youths, including smaller children. Many of the vehicles come equipped with speed governors to limit velocity, and parents can operate key-chain remotes that instantly cause the vehicles to stall.

An eBay ad for one Sacramento dealer, ATV Wholesale Outlet, states: “We have Sooooo many Kids ATVs/Quads in stock right now. ... They come in many colors, including metallic colors, camo colors and Pink. We have small, medium and larger kids Quads.” The ad also touted safety features such as a speed governor and remote kill switch.

Guidelines from the Irvine-based ATV Safety Institute, which offers safety classes, urges vehicle owners to “supervise riders younger than 16,” adding: “ATVs are not toys.”

Amy Granat, managing director of the Sacramento-based California Off-Road Vehicle Association, said she didn’t know the circumstances of Sunday’s tragedy and didn’t want to “second guess the parents who are in mourning.” But she said the incident serves as a reminder to adults letting youths use ATVS “that they always have to be in direct supervision of their kids and know what their kids are doing.”

“I’m a mother and a grandmother,” Granat said. “You hear about a tragedy like this, it is unthinkable. ... It’s a tragedy that every parent dreads hearing about.”

Call The Bee’s Marissa Lang, (916) 321-1038. Follow her on Twitter at @Marissa_Jae.