The cool river waters at Tiscornia Beach beckoned hundreds of visitors Sunday, offering soothing relief, and a splashing respite, from triple-digit temperatures.
Yet from the sandy shore, near where the American and Sacramento rivers meet, mothers Nicole Lugo and Christina McGuire were focused on vigilance and safety. After a recent spate of drownings, they were concerned with the beach’s gentle drop into the water, which has lowered due to drought conditions. They knew danger lurked.
Lugo put life jackets on her two kids, ages 5 and 8, and kept close watch on them as they waded in. She insisted they all stay by the shore, lest they step into perilous underwater “pot holes,” where they could lose their footing and be swept out into stronger currents.
Meanwhile, McGuire, a mother of four, told her kids: "If you don't wear a life jacket, you can't get in the water."
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So, the kids were safe. But many adults were taking their chances.
Elsewhere on the river Sunday, a man in his early 20s became the sixth person to drown in Sacramento County this summer.
The man, whose name wasn’t released by authorities, was found in the American River by the clay banks west of the Sunrise Boulevard bridge and east of the San Juan Rapids after rescuers unleashed a major search by air, ground and water shortly after 2 p.m., authorities said.
Five of this year’s accidental drownings occurred over a three-week span at Tiscornia Beach, where steep underwater ridges, hidden debris and snags can be deadly for ill-prepared or unsuspecting swimmers.
The majority of people who drown are young men overconfident in their abilities to swim as they underestimate the water forces near the river confluence. Many don’t wear life jackets.
Anyone under the age of 13 is required to wear a life jacket by law. Loaner life jackets for both kids and adults are available at the beach as well as at regional parks and through Sacramento Metro fire department stations and the California Division of Boating and Waterways.
James Ramirez, 33, who goes out to the river with his two kids every few weeks, said the drownings have “raised community awareness about water conditions.”
Still, “they go too deep without knowing what to expect,” he said. While he makes his children wear life jackets, he doesn’t wear one himself. He said he feels confident in his abilities to navigate river conditions and sees the life jackets as inhibiting his ability to swim freely.
John Watson, 36, who was trained to swim in the oceans of Southern California as a kid, also opted not to use a life preserver.
"You have to be comfortable and confident when it comes to the water,” said Watson, who said he’s comfortable enough to swim in well beyond the point where his feet can no longer touch the river floor. “It's most important to be aware of your surroundings and always keep an eye on the shore."
The Sacramento Fire Department advises river swimmers to never go into the water alone or under the influence of alcohol. More experienced swimmers are advised to stay within arms length of inexperienced swimmers, while children are to be closely watched at all times.
People who want life jackets can pick them up at these Sacramento Fire Department locations: Station 1, 624 Q St.; Station 5, 731 Broadway; Station 8, 5990 H St.; Station 11, 785 Florin Road; Station 15, 1591 Newborough Drive; Station 60, 3301 Julliard Drive.