Did county emergency responders fail Lake Nacimiento drowning victim?

July 19, 2016
Nacimiento Lake

Nacimiento Lake

OPINION by KIM ENGLISH

As one of the first responders to the scene on July 10 at Sandy Cove, I would have to disagree with the way the article portrays the rescue efforts for this young man. What I saw was a very slow and unprepared response team.

The intention of this letter is to request a review of the search and rescue procedures for Lake Nacimiento and to have a new protocol put in place to prevent any other needless drownings.

This is my account of the slow and under prepared, under equipped rescue efforts:

As I was hiking back down to the cove, I heard screaming and obvious urgent distress. When I arrived, there was a woman crying and screaming on the other side with her son next to her. There were several bystanders on the banks watching and two girls on the beach side that were screaming and crying. One of whom was the daughter of the man who drowned. The other, the daughter of the crying woman across the cove.

A couple of campers were in the water diving and looking for the man who had gone under. One of my friends was on the rocks up high trying to sight the body. I jumped in the water to help with the search. Then another friend arrived and started diving as well.

Five minutes later a ranger arrived on land fully dressed and without any diving gear. He jumped in and started searching too but without gear, there was no chance to find somebody in the deep, muddy water. Diving equipment was necessary.

Another five minutes passed as we all tried desperately knowing someone’s life was at stake. Then the ranger boat arrived with two rangers on board and there was hope that a rescue was about to occur. There was still time to save this mans life.

Instead, what transpired is still haunting me. When the rangers arrived in the cove, there didn’t seem to be any urgency. One ranger took his shirt off as if he was going in but when he was told it had been 10 minutes or so, he never entered the water. It was like resignation.

Neither of the two rangers ever got out of the boat. Still no “dive team” or search and rescue efforts. I don’t understand how a ranger boat on a lake doesn’t have any equipment to aid in potential drownings? This is what needs to change.

Meanwhile, the four or five of us kept diving. The ranger in the water performed a “line” search performing all he could without the proper gear. Oxygen tanks, masks, lights, fins, and sonar equipment would have potentially saved this mans life.

It took another 30 to 45 minutes before a helicopter arrived and the sheriffs arrived on land. No diver was lowered into the water from the helicopter and no divers entered the water from land.

These rescue efforts were slow, inadequate, and ill equipped at best. The article portrays the “efforts” very differently. Unfortunately, that won’t call any needed attention to the changes that need to occur! It leads people to believe that all efforts were made, status quo will continue, and so will, no doubt, lead to more drownings.

The divers arrived after about an hour and a half later only to recover the dead body from the bottom of the lake. It only took them a few minutes to find the body because he was at the bottom right where he went down. If dive equipment had been present at the rangers arrival, the man would most likely be alive today.

I urge those responsible and in a position to change the protocol to do so immediately before another fatality occurs.

For now, I will not return to lake Nacimiento because I realize that if an accident occurs, and they do and will, that there is no chance of a successful rescue with the procedure the way it is now.

Thank you in advance for your thoughtful consideration and attention to this matter. Change needs to occur. I hope this letter will help facilitate change.

Kim English is a Carmel resident who has vacationed at Lake Nacimiento since she was a child and was camping with a group of friends when the drowning occurred.


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SamLouis

Maybe the SLOC Sheriff’s new Cessna airplane (bought used from Ventura County) would have made the difference? *** rolls eyes in disgust***


SLO_Johnny

The man was dead before the first ranger arrived. He died after less than 5 minutes after his last breath. Small children submerged in very cold icy water can sometimes survive for extended periods. But, an adult male in the warm lake waters would experience asphyxia and would be dead in a few minutes. These a just body recovery duties. We can’t afford to have a large number of fully equipped lifeguards to cover the entire lake.


You swim at your own risk. It’s tragic that the man drowned but it’s not our fault.


non_sequitur

Typical law enforcement response, both to the incident and to the commentary.


RonHolt

I am not “Law Enforcement” and have criticized behavior of LEOs on occasion. However, I agree with most comments about the incident. There is no such thing as perfect safety and it is unrealistic to expect government (i.e. cops) to protect us from anything and everything that poses a threat including our recreational choices. It is one of the trade-offs that must happen to live freely.


People may disagree about where to draw the line between safety vs. financial costs and governmental power, but at some point, we can’t afford to do everything possible. I think this is one of those times.


goodgoal101

This was a very sad scenario to witness, and to experience. I dove for 45 minutes to at least show this victim’s family that I cared; even though at that point we knew he wouldn’t be alive. Being a nurse, I know the official time span for possible survival under water is 5-10 minutes. I just felt that those who arrived on scene had already given up; which was shown by their actions and resignation; except for the first Ranger who arrived. Even if they were sure, they could have been sensitive to the young daughter of the victim, and his fiancé’s children, who were watching this all, and showed some effort.

I still feel that at times, dive equipment and training for the Rangers could possibly save a life. Even one life; it is so important, because so many others are affected by that loss. This family will always remember what they saw that day; every detail. We don’t know why he drowned; he swam across fine according to his fiancé, so no one can assume it was due to poor swimming experience.


There are several defensive and cold comments above; possibly those people have often wondered themselves what could be done differently; if they had emergency equipment, could they have saved one life; even one life. But, all I can say, is to show a little sensitivity to those who were there that day, really trying, and to those that will never see their loved one again.


Perspicacious

Wow! What would we do without Big Brother there at a moments notice to take care of us? While this is a terrible tragedy, why didn’t the guy take safety into his own hands and wear a life jacket? Just because Big brother wasn’t there within seconds to save him somehow government is at fault for his death? I am sorry, but this opinion piece is so far off base as to be sad in itself.


Dexter

Kim makes some good points but the two joksters who berate her are likely law enforcement who can never accept the slightest blame even if the message is directed at possible solutions.


Don’t worry though Kim our sheriff has a state of the art panga towing boat that cost about a half million bucks but sits idle, not doing jack didly sh*t.


obispan

The rangers on the lake are rangers and the Sheriff’s deputies are cops. Neither was present at the lake when I was growing up (not needed). The Sheriff’s dive team, which I believe is largely reserve/volunteer is not an first responder and the idea that all first responders be fully trained and equipped divers is as ludicrous as this commentary. The only way to “prevent needless drownings” is education, awareness and safe practices in natural bodies of water with no lifeguard present. The victim and his family have my deepest sympathy but that does excuse irrational criticism of the agencies involved.


Pelican1

Good grief, while this is indeed a tragedy, there is NO need to blame the first responders

By the time they were summoned, it was obviously too late.

while there should be NO blame assigned to such a tragic event perhaps it`s wise to ensure that anyone who intends to recreate or spend time in the water, knows how to swim or at least is accompanied by someone who knows life saving techniques.

Sadly, this was probably preventable although all too common..

Rest in Peace

. .


Side_Show_Bob

Wow. I can’t believe I’m reading this here. Like there is some miraculous “Dive Team” at the ready at all times and ready to strike within moments of a call out.


You do realize that a person that has gone under and without air is pretty much done for in about 4 minutes?


“Oxygen tanks, masks, lights, fins, and sonar equipment would have potentially saved this mans life.” Time for a reality check. Please drop and step away from the TV Remote.


Sarboss

Can’t agree more! A real sad & tragic situation, but a reminder to us all that our best defense is anything but thinking a 20 member dive team will be standing on the beach ready to jump into “black water” in 2 minutes. Unfortunately, movies and TV have distorted what really happens in emergency management. To any witness, if you could have done better, why didn’t you?


2much

On the other hand, Sar, it really doesn’t seem unreasonable to expect that the Sheriff’s “Boat Patrol” would be staffed with competent divers and the basic stuff to attempt that rescue. What if they had arrived in seconds and had the opportunity to save a child or almost anyone (except Pelican or Bob). God knows the Sheriff wastes enough money on EVERYTHING else.


Extremely Stoic

Should the title read “county emergency responders failed to recover dead body in a timely fashion.”? This guy was dead by the time any first responders showed up. Look, you couldn’t find him, should you share the blame? No, sometime accidents happen and people die. This was one of those times