Rangers urge caution, life jackets after recent drownings on American River

Lilliana Avitia puts a life jacket onto 2-year-old Leah Moreno at Tiscornia Beach on Saturday at the mouth of the American River.
Lilliana Avitia puts a life jacket onto 2-year-old Leah Moreno at Tiscornia Beach on Saturday at the mouth of the American River. rbenton@sacbee.com

After several recent drownings, Sacramento County officials have increased safety warnings and are encouraging adults to strap on life jackets when swimming in the American River.

The efforts – including free loaner jackets for adults at Tiscornia Beach – drew mixed reactions Saturday from some rivergoers, who put life jackets on children but said they didn’t need them.

Sacramento County Regional Parks rangers patrolled the riverways Saturday at the beach, working to ensure children under 13 wore life jackets in the water as required by law and encouraging adults to wear them as well. In the past month, four people have drowned in the area, most recently 23-year-old Earlsiilian Turner, who drowned last Sunday.

Officials on Friday installed new warning signs and racks of free loaner adult life jackets near the water’s edge at the beach, where the American and Sacramento rivers meet. The region sees an average of eight drowning deaths annually, and the fast currents and abruptly dropping river floor at the rivers’ confluence create a particularly dangerous spot.

“We encourage everyone, even if they think they’re a strong swimmer, to be careful and to wear life jackets if they’re out in the water,” county spokeswoman Karen Doron said.

But around noon on Saturday, the racks of adult life jackets remained full. Most children playing in the water were wearing the bright yellow Kids Don’t Float life jackets that parks provide.

“I haven’t seen any adults wearing them,” said Shannon Lemke, 36, as she was leaving the area with her two children. Lemke said she saw park rangers reminding people along the beach of safety precautions.

Mark Ruff, 49, of Natomas said he came to the beach for the first time and the rangers’ warnings prompted him to put life jackets on his kids.

“It’s good that they’re enforcing it,” he said.

However, Ruff said he would not wear a life jacket in the water because he “wouldn’t take any chances” by wading out far enough not to feel the ground.

Doron said it was hard to say why people were not using the jackets.

“This is the first weekend we’ve had them out there,” she said. “The sign encourages people to use them, and we certainly hope they will.”

Jeanne Kuang: 916-321-1188, @jeannekuang

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