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Drownings put water safety in focus

Four incidents in five days have local officials stressing precautions for July 4 weekend

By , Columbian Breaking News Reporter
7 Photos
Rescue personnel from North Country EMS search the East Fork of the Lewis River below Moulton Falls on Tuesday for a man who drowned.
Rescue personnel from North Country EMS search the East Fork of the Lewis River below Moulton Falls on Tuesday for a man who drowned. Within five days, there were four presumed drownings Clark County waterways. Photo Gallery

On Thursday, Clark County Marine Patrol Deputy Kevin Gadaire helped retrieve the body of a Vancouver man, Pioneer Anastacio Kelulau, from Klineline Pond.

The body was the third one he’d pulled from local waterways in three days and the fourth drowning he’d responded to in five days.

“I have not seen this many drownings in such a short period of time,” the sheriff’s marine patrol veteran said Thursday afternoon.

Working alongside families such as that of Kelulau, he said, gives him a front-row seat to a family’s anguish when it comes to drownings.

“Being down here with this family, it’s horrendous,” he said. “The only good thing about this is the family has closure. One family is still waiting for that closure.”

That family belongs to Jay Jones, the 25-year-old Battle Ground man presumed to have drowned Saturday evening.

Gadaire took the original report when someone called 911 about 5:30 p.m. Saturday to report a person had fallen into the Columbia River just west of Ridgefield. Jones had been shuttling people back and forth to Bachelor Island when his boat apparently hit floating debris and Jones was launched out of it, Gadaire said.

Law enforcement found Jones’ 16-foot aluminum boat but, despite searching the area, did not locate his body.

Late Tuesday afternoon, two people reportedly drowned around the same time in separate incidents.

Sean Margetis, 44, of Vancouver reportedly jumped off of some rocks and into the water near Moulton Falls, a swimming hole in the East Fork of the Lewis River south of Yacolt. Witnesses called 911 about 4:15 p.m., and water rescue crews eventually located his body in about 10 feet of water.

Around the same time, dispatchers received a 911 call from a boater about 20 miles away. He had come upon the body of a man, later identified as Donald Kemper, 80, in the North Fork of the Lewis River in Woodland. A technical rescue crew pulled the body from the water.

Though there were no witnesses to say how Kemper got separated from his 14-foot aluminum motorboat, Gadaire said that he thinks the boat went into a shallow area and Kemper was thrown overboard.

On Wednesday, Kelulau had waded into the deep section of Klineline Pond to retrieve a child’s hat when he suddenly called for help and went underwater about 50 feet from shore.

A dive team searched for him Wednesday until dark but didn’t find his body until Thursday afternoon.

Though the incidents were separate, there were some commonalities. At least three of the four victims were not wearing life jackets. (Authorities can’t say yet whether Jones was wearing a life jacket because his body has not been recovered.)

“It’s tragic because it’s an accident and it’s preventable,” Gadaire said.

Another commonality is cold water. Northwest lakes and rivers are still very cold in late June and early July. Godaire explained that when someone hits cold water, the body reacts with an involuntary gasp.

“If with that first gasp you suck in cold water, that’s the start of bad news right there,” he said. “When the cold water hits your lungs, it causes you to gasp and you suck in more water. Then you sink; you don’t float.”

And with a warm Fourth of July weekend kicking off today, Gadaire said he hopes that people remain safe and plan for the unexpected.

The main dangers, Gadaire said, are swift water, high water and cold water. But the dangers can be lessened, he said, by preparing for the unexpected.

“It’d make me happy to have every store sold out of every life jacket.”

Columbian Breaking News Reporter

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