Truckee River hit by Fourth madness | SierraSun.com

Truckee River hit by Fourth madness

Julie Brown
Sierra Sun

A nearly fatal incident on the Truckee River Wednesday put a dark spin on what has become a popular Fourth of July tradition, floating down the river on a raft with a cooler stocked full of alcoholic beverages.

Officials said a young man misjudged the release on a rope swing in the late afternoon and, on landing, hit his head on a rock. The individual stopped breathing and responders performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation before life-flighting him to Renown Medical Department in Reno.

The patient is on life-support and is in critical condition, Placer County Sheriff’s Sgt. Allan Carter said. No further information was available.

“Apparently, [the rope swing] was difficult to use, and in an intoxicated state, it was near impossible,” Carter said.

The improvised rope swing was removed yesterday.

The alcohol-related incident made officials question whether rafting down the Truckee River on the Fourth of July has crossed the line between fun and safety.

“Someone’s going to have to decide what the balance is,” said California Highway Patrol Officer Joe Edwards.

After patrolling the river on a bicycle Wednesday, Edwards said he had never seen the river so crowded.

“It was just wall-to-wall people all the way from Fanny Bridge up to River Ranch,” Edwards said.

This year’s commercial rafting numbers were about average at the Truckee River Raft Company, said Business Manager Gary Perona, but a large number of holiday revelers used their own rafts Wednesday.

The river swelled Wednesday with hundreds of rafters, sporting red, white and blue paraphernalia, and celebrating the patriotic occasion in a drunken stupor. The Spring Break-like party peaked midway down the river at the notorious Party Island, where bodies and rafts blocked the entire waterway from one bank to the other.

Countless people and rafts squeezed together, shoulder to shoulder, in knee-deep water surrounding the island, while sheriff’s deputies and CHP troopers supervised from the bike path above.

Several rafts were stacked on top of each other, with passengers sliding down the triple-decked rafts into the shallow water.

“Everyone who went had fun,” said Chantel Young, an employee for the Truckee River Raft Company. “It’s pretty hard not to have fun.”

But, while many floaters may have witnessed the party of the summer, officials reported massive underage drinking on the river, drunk driving related to rafting, four reported injuries including the rope-swing accident, and several alcohol-related brawls.

“The Fourth of July is always a real big day on the river,” said River Ranch Manager Bric Haley. “It’s a difficult day for everyone because of the alcohol on the rivers. It seems a little bit larger on the Fourth of July than any other time.

“By the time they get here, many, many people are way too inebriated,” Haley said, noting a large number of underage drinkers coming off the river.

The Truckee River is a top priority for law enforcement officials over the holiday, with several officers patrolling on bikes and others stationed at key points from the 64-acre Forest Service parcel in Tahoe City to River Ranch. But some observers of the Fourth’s rowdiness are wondering whether additional enforcement is needed.

“The sheriff’s put together an [enforcement] plan a number of years ago, and they’ve done a marvelous job,” Haley said. “And without the sheriff’s, it would be chaos.”

A rising incidence of alcohol-related problems at the American River Parkway prompted a recent state law banning the use of alcohol on the Sacramento waterway.

Deputy Director Dave Lydick of the Sacramento County Regional Parks described the scene at the American River Parkway in recent years as “more drunks than any law-enforcement agency could handle.”

With an estimated 10,000 to 12,000 rafters floating on the American River on a typical Fourth of July, authorities had to contend with constant fights, public nudity, public urination, a surplus of litter and countless medical calls from rafters passing out drunk. It was all the park rangers could do “to keep things from breaking out into a full riot,” Lydick said.

So Lydick and the Sacramento County board of supervisors pursued state legislation that banned alcohol on the shore and on the waterway during the summer holidays.

This Fourth of July was significantly different, Lydick said.

“It worked very well. The rangers that I’ve talked to from our staff thought that we probably removed at least 90 percent of the alcohol from the river,” Lydick said. “There was only one call for medical aid and that was from a bee sting.”

Rafting numbers on the Sacramento stretch of the American stayed relatively constant from last year, he said. But, the population changed from college-aged 18- to 25-year-olds to more families.

Those familiar with the holiday scene on the Truckee River are left to wonder whether a similar change is called for at Lake Tahoe.

“It would be a lie to say that it hasn’t gotten worse over the past few years,” said Perona of the Truckee River Raft Company. “What the remedy is, I’m not sure I’m in a position to say. … I would imagine [an alcohol ban] is one of the only ways they have to deal with it to begin with. Whether that’s going to be a direction they go here on the Truckee, I guess we’ll have to wait and see.”

Placer County Sheriff’s Capt. Jeff Granum said that overall, Lake Tahoe’s Fourth of July was much quieter than normal, with a crowd made up of families and kids. The biggest issue of the day was drinking on the river.

The Truckee Police Department issued a release describing the town’s Fourth of July festivities as generally quiet, despite service calls about loud parties, complaints over fireworks, traffic problems and a few fights.