Sacramento County officials step up communication efforts to prevent drownings

Prompted by five drownings in recent weeks, Sacramento County officials Monday announced measures to better alert people to the dangers of wading and swimming near the confluence of the American and Sacramento rivers.

Sacramento County Supervisor Phil Serna said signs warning of strong currents and other hazards, now posted near the entrance to the parking area at Tiscornia Beach, will also be placed at the water’s edge by this weekend. In addition, he said, Sacramento County Regional Parks rangers have been directed to personally engage people more frequently when patrolling the area to emphasize water safety.

“We’re taking this very seriously,” Serna said.

Although some people have suggested the county close popular Tiscornia Beach in light of the hazardous water conditions and the recent drownings, Serna said many others want to make sure access to the river is maintained. The measures announced Monday, he said, are intended to maintain that access while enhancing public safety.

The announcement came the day after a 24-year-old man apparently drowned after entering the Sacramento River side of Tiscornia Beach about 12:30 p.m. Sunday. He was swimming with a friend during a family outing and began having trouble after the two passed a drop-off not far from shore. The companion tried to help the man, but was unable to rescue him. As of Monday, the man’s body had not been recovered.

On July 6, Aasha Sharma, 31, who did not know how to swim, was swept away while wading near the same location with her husband and a group of friends. Her husband said he tried to pull her to safety but came close to drowning himself. Sharma’s drowning came a few days after another man drowned near the same spot.

On Monday morning, with the most recent drowning victim’s body still unrecovered from the water, adults and children gathered at Tiscornia Beach, across from Discovery Park, to cool off in the water.

Chris Lindsey was headed toward the river with a towel over his shoulder. Lindsey said he recently moved back to Sacramento after living in Oakland. From the freeway, he said, the water looked inviting. He was wearing swim shorts, so he decided to stop by and take a dip.

Lindsey said he wasn’t aware of Sunday’s presumed drowning or the others so far this season, nor was he aware of the strong currents at this location.

“It has the illusion of safety,” he said.

Bonnie Green, emerging from the water about 11 a.m., said it was refreshing, but she would have second thoughts about going in again. Green, a Pollock Pines resident, said she had been in Sacramento the past week while her son was undergoing medical treatment, and swimming provided her some stress relief.

“The current is really strong, more so than I could even imagine,” she said. “I’m a very strong swimmer and that was knocking my butt off.”

The river can appear deceptively calm to the untrained eye. People often fail to notice the signs near the parking lot warning of strong currents and other hazards.

Diane Lilly said she thought signs close to the water’s edge would attract more attention.

“I don’t think people understand that it’s a river and not a lake,” said Lilly, who lives off Garden Highway and frequently comes to Tiscornia Beach. She said her 23-year-old son fishes in the area and she swims. She is aware of the hazards.

“You have to know the river, and you have to know how to swim,” Lilly said.

About 30 feet from shore, the river bottom “drops way off,” she said. She pointed to an area with bubbles showing on the water’s surface as a sign of the strong current. “People say it’s cold,” Lilly said. “It’s not that cold. It’s more about the current.”

Recent drowning victims in the area have been adults swimming or wading out into the river. On Monday, children played or swam in water near the shore, some with life vests and some without.

Soni Nageswaran of Sacramento said she and her children typically come to Tiscornia Beach two or three times during the summer. Nageswaran said she was greatly concerned about the safety of children swimming in the river, but she wasn’t aware that a Sacramento County ordinance requires children younger than 13 to wear life preservers when entering public waterways, even to play in the shallow water along the shore. Nageswaran said she hadn’t noticed the loaner life vests, courtesy of the “Kids Don’t Float” program, hanging on a board beneath trees near one end of the parking lot.

The ordinance applies to all public waterways within Sacramento County, including all parts of the American and Sacramento rivers accessible to the public.

In addition to the children’s life vests available through the “Kids Don’t Float” program, Serna noted that several fire stations in the area offer loaner life vests for people of all ages, and the vests can be reserved for a weekend.

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