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Drowning brings calls for caution on local rivers | News

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Drowning brings calls for caution on local rivers
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SACRAMENTO, CA - A drowning on the American River is bringing a call for caution as snowmelt brings higher levels on area rivers.

A 59-year-old man died while helping other rafters on the North Fork of the American River Saturday.

In Sacramento, families and rafters flocked to a high-flowing and very cold American River in search of relief from the weekend's scorching heat.

Sacramento Assistant Fire Chief Niko King said the water temperature in the river is in the low 50's, and he cautioned that even relatively calm water can still be very dangerous without a life vest.

"You can stand there and it's only knee deep, but people aren't aware of the holes on the bottom, the terrain, and the current. They think they're going to get in there thinking they're only going to be in for a minute and the next thing you know they're in trouble," King said.

Veteran kayaker Mike Tibbetts said he sees people taking dangerous risks all the time.

"Every year, first time we have a warm day, someone gets in trouble and someone who can't swim goes in to try to help them. That's why I don't take chances. I wear my life preserver and make sure my grandson has one on," Tibbetts cautioned.

Fisherman Alex Crotzer, who'd just caught a five-pound striped bass, agreed that people don't seem to realize the chances they're taking, especially when the suddenly jump in the water.

"Takes your breath away. And basically, they're not expecting it and they go into shock and they don't know what to do," Crotzer said.

At the Howe Ave. boat launch in Sacramento, many children could be seen standing and playing in the water without life vests.

King said people often don't realize their bodies are becoming dangerously chilled.

"It slowly cools from the outside in. Your blood starts pulling away, going to the internal organs. It's called "shunting" and what you're going to start feeling is cramping. Your not going to have the strength any more. And even though your mind's going be saying, 'I need to be swimming as hard as I can,' your muscles aren't gonna be responsive," King said.

Rivergoer Benjamin Nikiel said he had a close shave when he wasn't wearing a life jacket.

"I was crossing to another island where the current was quicker and my feet lost contact and my feet came out from under me and I was swept under," Nikiel said.

Fortunately, he was able to go with the current and hold his breath at times until he was able to swim to shore.

"It's scary," he said.

At most entry points along the American River, local fire departments provide free life vests for people to use.

Life vests are required for children under 13.

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