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After a third body is pulled from Tule River, sheriff wants to close river access

The Tule River was running fast at the Upper Coffee Camp recreation site around the time two women fell in last month.
The Tule River was running fast at the Upper Coffee Camp recreation site around the time two women fell in last month. Fresno Bee file photo

The body of a Bakersfield man was retrieved from the Tule River on Wednesday – the fifth drowning victim in a Tulare County river since April 14.

And with rivers swelling and dangerous from the quickly melting snowmelt, the sheriff is preparing to close public access to the dangerous sections.

Jose Carlos Molina, 22, was last seen Wednesday afternoon by family members at a popular swimming hole called “The Stairs” on the Tule above Springville near Coffee Camp, the Tulare County Sheriff’s Department reported.

Molina went upstream of the main swimming hole and out of sight, and family members later heard him yell for help as he was swept into the rapids. They were unable to help him.

The sheriff’s department was called at 3:30 p.m. and officers arrived on scene within 20 minutes. With the CHP helicopter on the scene, officers found Molina’s body around 5 p.m. about mile and a half downstream from where he was last seen.

Whitewater conditions made it too dangerous to put officers in the water, so the CHP helicopter assisted with the recovery.

Because of several recent drownings, Sheriff Mike Boudreaux is working with the U.S. Forest Service to close public access to “dangerous portions” of the Tule River. Boudreaux advised visitors to stay away from those areas until the danger of fast-running water has abated.

“Please do not approach the river’s edge or enter whitewater under any circumstances,” Boudreaux said in a statement on the sheriff department’s website. “The current conditions in many of our waterways are not survivable despite safety equipment, training or experience in whitewater. Inner tubes or other small flotation devices are inadequate and extremely dangerous as they are easily overturned in the swift currents and can be deflated by impacts with rocks and branches.”

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On Monday, the body of an 18-year-old man from Woodlake was recovered from the Middle Fork of the Kaweah River in Sequoia National Park above Three Rivers. Tomas Martinez, 18, fell into the river Sunday.

On April 26 the Tulare County Sheriff’s Office recovered the body of the second of two victims who drowned in the Tule River on a hiking trip on April 13. The victim was Alondra Orozco, 21, of Bakersfield. Deputies had located the body of the first victim, Shreya Singh, 21, also of Bakersfield, early into the search on April 13.

The fifth victim was identified as Karissa Jones, 21, of Omaha, Nebraska, who drowned April 22 in the Middle Fork of the Kaweah River after she fell in near the Hospital Rock picnic area.

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