Crime - Sacto 911

Ranger gives details of teen’s drowning in American River

Dive team members were able to recover the body of a Sacramento teen near the confluence of the north and middle forks of the American River on Sunday, April 17, 2016.
Dive team members were able to recover the body of a Sacramento teen near the confluence of the north and middle forks of the American River on Sunday, April 17, 2016. Auburn State Recreation Area

The body of a Sacramento teen was recovered from the north fork of the American River west of Auburn shortly after 10:15 a.m. Sunday, a day after the young man went underwater amid the bustle of an Earth Day cleanup.

The body was recovered about 100 yards downstream from where he went in Saturday near the confluence of the north and middle forks of the river, said Supervising Ranger Scott Liske. The Placer County Coroner’s Office was responsible for the death investigation and would be responsible for formally identifying the body, Liske said. The teen’s family was present as the body was pulled from the cold river but declined to talk to the media, Liske said.

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It was the second apparent drowning in a matter of weeks near the confluence of the north and middle forks of the American River. Three weeks ago, an apparent runner was pulled from the river after succumbing to the cold water. That body was first seen within a half-mile of this death, Liske said.

Sunday’s recovery happened almost exactly 24 hours from the time he disappeared. The search began midday Saturday after the teen went under the water. Dozens of volunteers were participating in an Earth Day cleanup of the Auburn State Recreation Area at the time.

“I looked down and saw him moving downstream,” Liske said. The ranger said he was among the volunteers and saw the teen from a vantage point 150 yards away.

“He did not appear to be in distress at that time,” Liske said. “I could see he had no shirt on; his head was above water.”

Several volunteers were yelling at him to get out of the water, Liske said. He said he was too far away to be of any help.

Liske said he was gathering bags of bottles that volunteers had collected. “For some unknown reason, he got in the water,” Liske said, noting that the young man was not a volunteer. He said volunteers numbered in the hundreds and as many as 50 could have seen what happened. At least four were in the vicinity at the time.

“After about a minute and a half, he goes under the surface of the water,” Liske said. “I never saw him again.”

He said the teen’s friends said they didn’t know why he went in, other than possibly to cool off. His family members said earlier Sunday that he could swim, Liske said.

The dive team searched the cold waters for several hours Saturday. Using scuba gear, the Placer County team was back at it Sunday, Liske said. With help from the Placer County Water Authority, water flow was temporarily reduced from the Oxbow Reservoir upstream, aiding in the search, Liske said.

“With a river search, the divers have to work against the current in cold water,” Liske said. He said the water was about 54 degrees Saturday. Eight miles downstream, the middle fork spills into Folsom Lake. A California Highway Patrol helicopter was also searching the river Sunday.

The situation was another solemn reminder of how dangerous the river is, especially this early in the season when snow runoff makes the river extra hazardous, he said.

“Unfortunately, something happens (like this) every year,” Liske said. “It’s just an unfortunate accident, but it is preventable.”

Ed Fletcher: 916-321-1269, @NewsFletch

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