Local News

Thursday, May 26 2011 11:52 AM

Kern River deaths now 257

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    By Jaclyn Borowski / The Californian

    Kern County Sheriff's Department Sgt. Mark Baldwin, who works with the search and rescue teams, updates the number of lives lost on the Kern River drowning sign.

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BY PAVAN VANGIPURAM, Californian staff writer pvangipuram@bakersfield.com

Kern County Sheriff's Department Search and Rescue marked a grim anniversary Thursday, as Sgt. Mark Baldwin updated the sign at the mouth of the canyon that warns would-be swimmers of the dangers the Kern River can present.

Six people were killed in the river over the past year, bringing the total fatalities in the river since 1968 to 257.

"I attribute (the deaths) to people not being aware of the strength of the current, among other things," Baldwin said. "The river might seem serene, but you don't know what's downstream. You could have boulders, rapids or a decline in elevation."

Baldwin said there was "about a fifty-fifty" ratio between local residents and out-of-towners who drown in the river.

He also warned swimmers this year that currents could be unusually strong this year due to increased snowmelt.

"The river is a natural resource; you have to respect it," Baldwin said. "Everyone who goes into the river needs to know their limitations."

The Sheriff's Department Search and Rescue will have an increased presence on the Kern River over Memorial Day weekend, fielding volunteers in orange jumpsuits.

"We're trying to stay on the awareness front," Baldwin said of the department's efforts.

If swimmers do find themselves swept away by the river's current, Baldwin recommends they adopt a "lounge chair" position, wherein they relax and put their feet up.

"You don't want your feet dragging along the bottom," Baldwin said.

When a swept-away swimmer sees a suitable river bank, Baldwin said the swimmer should point his or her head upstream and start swimming toward the bank.

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