A Gustine man drowned Sunday afternoon while on a family outing at the O’Neill Forebay near Santa Nella.
Authorities identified the deceased as Ricardo Martinez Perez, 38.
California State Parks Captain Gerald Heberling told Mattos Newspapers that his understanding is that Martinez Perez entered the water after his son had fallen from the inflatable raft the family was using. Martinez Perez was able to pull the boy to safety, Heberling said, but was unable to get out of the water himself.
Heberling said that a patrol boat had been directed toward the family to make a safety contact after a lifeguard had spotted them outside designated swimming areas.
The ranger was on the scene quickly and immediately began searching the water but was unable to locate Martinez Perez, Heberling said. Lifeguards converged on the scene and started a dive line in an effort to locate him, but were also unsuccessful.
The Merced County Sheriff’s Department dive team recovered his body Monday afternoon.
Heberling reported that the family had apparently launched from the San Luis Creek group camping area rather than from designated swimming areas nearby which were protected by lifeguards. He told Mattos Newspapers that the wind had started pushing the family away from shore.
The family was using an inflatable device which was essentially a pool toy, Heberling said, and nobody on board was wearing a life jacket.
There is a free life jacket loaner program offered at the recreation area’s swim beaches, he noted, and lifeguards are quick to advise visitors if they are bringing equipment which is not suited for the open water.
The Father’s Day tragedy was the first drowning in the San Luis Reservoir State Recreation Area since 2015, according to Heberling.