Crime - Sacto 911

Family remembers drowning victim, wonders if death could have been prevented

Purna Paudel has a moment of thought before sending a wreath into the confluence of the Sacramento and American rivers during a vigil for his wife, Aasha Sharma, a 27-year-old woman from Sacramento who drowned in July off a beach near Discovery Park, the same spot where a young man drowned last week.
Purna Paudel has a moment of thought before sending a wreath into the confluence of the Sacramento and American rivers during a vigil for his wife, Aasha Sharma, a 27-year-old woman from Sacramento who drowned in July off a beach near Discovery Park, the same spot where a young man drowned last week. aseng@sacbee.con

More than 100 people packed the North Sacramento Funeral Home on Sunday to remember Jagjit Basra, the 19-year-old man from India who drowned Oct. 11 at the confluence of the American and Sacramento rivers.

As a Sikh priest recited holy scriptures, family members sobbed uncontrollably in the front row.

Basra drowned near Tiscornia Beach when he went in the water as two young nephews were swept out to the center of the river by a wave. He did not know how to swim and was not wearing a life jacket. The two children were not harmed.

Raj Basra, 30, the victim’s sister, wondered if the drowning could have been prevented. She took the occasion to push for the beach to be closed indefinitely.

“He was so young,” said Raj Basra, who was dressed in a traditional Indian white gown. “He had just come to America in January.”

Jagjit Basra had been reunited with his mother, Balvir Basra, 57, and was working as a server at the family’s India Plate restaurant in West Sacramento. He had longed to visit the river, according to family members.

On Sunday, family members showed a photo of a beaming Basra, clad in a yellow polo shirt and standing in the American River. The photo was taken only minutes before his death.

The Oct. 11 outing was Basra’s first. Divers from the Sacramento Fire Department found him 40 minutes after he went below the surface. By that time, he was unconscious. Officials transported him to UC Davis Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead.

Tiscornia Beach, next to Discovery Park, is a popular recreation area. Over the summer, the water there receded because of the drought, but officials say the water levels are misleading, as a steep drop-off can trap a swimmer in strong currents.

Basra’s death adds to the 12 previous drownings reported for the two major rivers in Sacramento County this year, twice the normal amount. There have been at least nine drownings this summer in the waters near Tiscornia Beach and at least five in the past two months, according to the Sacramento Fire Department.

County officials have increased the number of life jackets and signage this year in the wake of the drownings but have stopped short of closing Tiscornia Beach. Supervisor Phil Serna, who represents the area, said officials have exhausted their toolbox.

“You’re not going to dissuade other people from finding other places,” Serna said of the proposal to close down certain sections of the river.

The county paid for increased patrols from the Drowning Accident Rescue Team on weekends during the summer, but the volunteer group has pulled back since Labor Day. Last week, DART officials said they would respond to incidents as necessary.

Richard Chang: 916-321-1018, @RichardYChang

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