Sheriff warns of river dangers, Woodlake man’s remains found
tulare county – While snow in the Sierra Mountains is a welcomed sight after a half decade long drought, it is dangerous as well. And during summer, when a fresh cool river is exactly what you need to cool off, it could be tempting to take a plunge. But Tulare County Sheriff Mike Boudreaux cautions that it may not be such a good idea when the river is roaring.
“As air temperatures warm, it will be tempting to enter the rivers but don’t be fooled. The water is very cold and fast throughout the spring and early summer. Never leave your children unattended near any body of water. Even if you are an experienced swimmer you should stay out of the water,” the Sheriff’s office issued in a press release. “Please do not approach the river’s edge or enter white water under any circumstances. The current conditions in many of our waterways are not survivable despite safety equipment, training or experience in white water. Inner tubes or other small flotation devices are inadequate and extremely dangerous as they are easily overturned in the swift currents and can be deflated by impacts with rocks and branches.”
Just last week, the remains of an 18 year-old Woodlake resident, Tomas Martinez were discovered. It was the second fatality in the Middle Fort of the Kaweah River this year. As a result the National Park Service shares in Boudreaux’s message to deter patrons from nearing the river. The National Park Service was assisted in the recovery by the Tulare County Sheriff’s Office, Tulare County Fire Department, California Highway Patrol, YODOGS, and Exeter Ambulance.
“Park rangers strongly request people not go in or near the edge of the rivers as even the rock next to them are slick and steep. Places such as Giant Forest in Sequoia National Park and Grant Grove in Kings Canyon National Park are great to visit this time of year,” stated a Sequoia National Park Service press release.
Incident Commander Dave Fox expressed, “Rivers in these parks this year are extremely dangerous. Visitors should not go in or near them. These places are cold, swift, and dangerous.”
On Sunday, April 30, a report was received by a park ranger that Martinez had fallen into the Middle Fork of the Kaweah River behind the headquarters of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.
Martinez’s death was the second such death in as many weeks on the same river. The week prior A 21 year-old Tulare Woman and three friends were alongside the Middle Fork of the Kaweah River a short distance downstream from the Hospital Rock Picnic Area, six miles inside the Sequoia park entrance on Hwy 198. The woman fell into the river and was swept away. Her friends contacted the parks for help and a search and rescue response was initiated.
Farther downstream, another visitor saw the woman in the river and managed to get her out. Wesley Mungin of Hanford, Calif., got the victim to shore, administered CPR in an area upstream from Potwisha Campground.
Another fatality, a hiker on Mount Whitney was discovered deceased the same weekend. On Friday, April 21, a group of climbers descending the eastern slope of Mount Whitney crossed paths with a solo climber who was heading up the Mountaineer’s Route. Like the commonly used trail to the 14,494-foot peak, this route starts at Whitney Portal, but it is far more challenging. Sometime later, the group observed a backpack fall and realized that the climber they passed may have fallen. As soon as they were able to obtain a cell signal, they called 911, reporting the incident to the Inyo County Sheriff’s Office (ICSO).
ICSO started an investigation but it was too dark to begin an aerial search. At first light on Saturday, they began a helicopter search and spotted the man’s body after about four hours. He had apparently been traversing the north face of Mount Whitney, an area with snow and ice, when he fell. Because this area is in Sequoia National Park, ICSO contacted the National Park Service, which had commenced operations to retrieve the victim the following morning.
In response the fatalities Boudreaux is currently working with the US Forest Service to close public access to dangerous portions of the Tule River. Until official notice, Sheriff Boudreaux strongly advises visitors to stay away from these areas.
“While we encourage visitors to enjoy rural Tulare County, safety remains our number one priority. Be mindful of your children, use sound judgment and be safe,” the Sheriff’s Department cautioned.