If you enter the Merced River you will be arrested


Deputies are now patrolling along the river near Snelling, enforcing a new emergency proclamation that will be in effect for the next 10 days. That's where four officers had to be rescued overnight, after saving three stranded rafters.

This exclusive video shows the frantic moments after a Merced Sheriff's dive team boat capsized during a rescue overnight. Three rafters and four deputies toppled out of the boat and into the frigid river, sending emergency crews scrambling. It took several hours and several agencies to bring them all to safety.

Sheriff Mark Pazin said, "What these people did by not paying attention, not understanding Mother Nature and how treacherous those waters are put our officers in danger, and that's just not right."

In response, workers posted new caution signs, and the sheriff's office implemented an emergency proclamation with the Merced Irrigation District to close the river late Friday afternoon. But before that, warnings alone didn't stop rafters from entering the swift river, in almost the same spot as Thursday's near tragedy.

Rigo Rodriguez insisted he'd be safe, "You just gotta take precautions and know how to swim, that's it."

A Sergeant showed up just before Rodriguez launched his raft and refused to let his 14 year old nephew go with him.

The Sergeant said, "You're endangering his life. We had to rescue our own guys last night out of the water. If you get caught in those trees over there it's too dangerous."

But Rodriguez took off and only made it part of the way down the river before jumping off his raft to save his own life. He showed us the scratches from the tree branch he used to pull himself out of the water.

"When I was holding onto the branch, I was like I should have just listened to them," said Rodriguez. "If I would have never jumped, maybe I wouldn't be here talking to you guys. It's pretty dangerous."

Now deputies hope the new emergency proclamation will keep others from taking that same chance. Anyone who enters the water can be arrested for trespassing.

Just hours after opening a section of the Kings River, the Fresno County Sheriff's office closed the waterway for recreational use.

That means the Kings River is closed in Fresno County below Pine Flat Dam. The river is also closed in Tulare County. The Kings County portion of the river remains open.

Copyright © 2021 KFSN-TV. All Rights Reserved.