Water rescue teams in search for man in Reedley

FRESNO, Calif.

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It's the first drowning of the year at the beach. The man was in the Kings River near Olson and Reed, and was last seen just north of Reedley Bridge.

Reedley police say the victim was a 40-year-old man who was not a very good swimmer. But he wasn't swimming when the water grabbed him. He just slipped off a sandbar and into deep water.

Dive teams methodically searched the river for any signs of the father who got caught in the current as his son watched.

Witnesses say the man had been playing with his boy for hours and looked like he was coming to shore when he fell in.

"The little boy, he swam," said Dulce Torres of Parlier. "He got over here and then he turned around and saw his dad was drowning and he was like 'Dad! Dad!' he was screaming."

The river's swift current swept the man downstream as he gasped for air.

"From over here, he jumped up a few times," said Javier Garcia of Parlier. "You could see his hands waving in the air and his head popping up, and then he went down about 10-15 feet, then came up. Went down again five feet, then came up, and then right there where that big trees landing, he went down and just disappeared."

The river is deeper than normal at this time of year because of a good snowpack this past winter and several families played in the water, even after the accident. But the current is fast and sandbars give the illusion of safety when danger is just a step away. "You could even get close and the dirt will collapse and take you under," said Garcia.

Divers from the Fresno County Sheriff's Office and the STAR rescue team launched their boats, and the Reedley Fire Department raced jet skis to the river. But after about three and a half hours, the moon came up and the sky got dark, ending the search for the night.

Dive teams will be back on the water Monday morning. They say flotation devices are always a good idea when you're going in the river. And in this case, the man was wearing heavy clothes that only weighed down his body once he got wet.

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