Tragedies Near Bakersfield Campgrounds

June 27, 2011 by   - () 5 Comments

One man died, the body of a man missing for two weeks was found, another man went missing and three stranded swimmers and inner tubers were pulled from the Kern River by rescuers over the weekend near Bakersfield, Calif.

An unnamed 53-year-old Palmdale man walked into the Kern River at the Gold Ledge Campground in Tulare County on Friday evening and never came out, according to reports from the Tulare County Sheriff’s Department, the Bakersfield Californian reported.

On Saturday morning a California Highway Patrol helicopter spotted his body caught on a tree in the river, about seven miles north of Kernville.

Members of the Tulare County Sheriff’s Department swift water rescue team responded and retrieved the body. Then, 20 yards away, they spotted a second body in the water.

Sgt. Chris Douglass of the Tulare County Sheriff’s Department identified the second man as Minh Nguyen, 22, of Westminster, one of two men who went missing on June 13 after the raft they were in was pulled into a “boil” — a turbulent area in the middle of the river — and capsized.

The other man, Scott Neacato, 22, of Los Angeles, remains missing, Douglass said.

Both men were part of a group of 11 people who were camping at Ant Canyon campground, about one mile above Gold Ledge, Tulare Sheriff’s reports stated.

Neacato recently graduated from UCLA with a degree in sociology, according to a story on the website of The Daily Bruin, the university’s newspaper, and the trip was to celebrate that graduation.

According to, an informational site profiling outdoor adventures in the Kern River Valley, Ant Canyon is the beginning of what experienced rafters and kayakers call Thunder Run, a long series of challenging class four and class five rapids that tax the most experienced river riders.

Currently, river rafting companies are not offering Thunder Run trips because of the heavy river flows which can reportedly turn the section into a treacherous class six ride.

“The water is way too cold and way too swift,” Douglass said. “It’s actually dangerous for our swift water team to go into the river. Even the trained rescue teams won’t go in.”

The group of campers Neacato and Nguyen were with had tied a line across the river at that point and then tied a two-person raft to the line.

The two men were riding in the raft when it was sucked under. Neither was wearing a life jacket.

Neacato reportedly did not know how to swim.

In a recent editorial, Bakersfield Fire Department Chief Douglas Greener urged people to show respect for the river and caution when playing in or around it.

“There is a distinct difference between rafting and kayaking with trained water guides or experienced enthusiasts using maintained equipment and certified personal flotation devices, and floating down the river on an inner tube or pool toy,” Greener wrote. “That is not respect — but an invitation for disaster.”

Additional river emergencies kept rescue teams on the Kern County side on Saturday and Sunday.

On Saturday, just after 1 p.m., Sheriff’s deputies were called out to rescue two boys from Palmdale who trapped themselves on the north side of the river while inner tubing at Sandy Flats campground just a few miles downriver from Lake Isabella.

The boys — who were wearing life jackets — were pulled into a raft and returned to their families by volunteers from the Sheriff’s Kern Valley Swift Water Rescue team.

Neither boy was injured.

Then, at around 5:51 p.m. Saturday, Sheriff’s volunteers from the Bakersfield Swift Water Rescue Team were called out to rescue Victor Recinos, 36, of Bakersfield from where he clung to a tree in the middle of the Kern River at the western edge of Hart Park.

A raft team was able to retrieve Recinos from his perch. He told rescuers that he was swept away by the strong current when he attempted to help another stranded rafter.

Recinos was not injured.

On Sunday morning river rescue teams began the hunt for a 50-year-old man who has been swept away by the rushing waters of the Kern River near the spot where the two boys had been rescued the day before.

Sheriff’s Lt. Steve Hansen said the man was overpowered by the flow of water near Sandy Flats and Hobo campgrounds at around 11 a.m. Sunday.

The unidentified man was still missing late Sunday afternoon.

Hansen said, because swimmers and rafters are unprepared for the flows they are facing in the Kern River this year, he doesn’t expect the constant flow of rescue calls to stop this summer.

“There’s probably three times as much water in the river this year, as compared to last year,” he said.

His advice to people is to stay out of the river. If they choose to go in, Hansen urges them to wear a life jacket.


5 Responses to “Tragedies Near Bakersfield Campgrounds”

  1. rudy on June 27th, 2011 12:29 pm

    it may not be the right time to hear what happened to the fifty year old man who got swept away on sunday morning in the kern river. however, i was of the men who tried to save him as he passed the campground where my fam n i were located at. i ran along the mountains, next to the man trying to guide him. at the same time my cousin and a young lady where behind him on a raptor but the man was going a lot faster then the raptor. when i ran out of space to continue i could see that the man had lost his energy and his face would no longer come up over the water. then everyone lost sight of him as it appeared that that he had gone under water and got swept away. the police and rescue crew were doing a crappy job in trying to find him and were more worried about my cousin wearing a life jacket while trying to save someone. also the sheriff on site was trying to give citations to the childs of the young lady who was with my cousin while trying to save the man. the bakersfield news doesnt really talk about this incident so if anybody knows more can u please right a comment about this incident which occured sun morning. my father is bummed out because we could of saved him but the man hessitated when we asked if he needed help. we just want to kno if the man is ok and wanna to tell his son to stay strong. i hopehes still with us because if not its something thats gonna stay in my mind forever. thank you

  2. Steve Bibler on June 27th, 2011 1:01 pm

    Rudy, Thanks for sharing your role in this tragic story.

  3. rudy on June 27th, 2011 2:00 pm

    i just read on another site and found out the mans name and age. also found out that the man was not found and the search continues. that draws one conclusion… wow!!! dude that sucks! if he would of just said yes to us when we asked him if he was ok. im not tryin to act like i was trying to be some type of hero nor that my cousin was but the report given by sheriffs is not accurate. i feel my fam n other people who were there did more to try to save the man then the search n rescue crew. they are trained for these cituations and yet it took them more then 45 mins to go into the water. when the helicopter arrived we were waving at the direction where we had lost sight of him and the men up there were just circuling on top of us. the sherif that arrived at the seen, along with the fire crew were trying to find out if my cousin was wearing a life vest so that if not they could give him a citation. also the children of the young lady that without hesitation jumped into the raptor with my cousin was being harassed by officers when they were askin her if her children had on life vests. although they did have them on they were not on the raptor; therefore, it shouldnt have been an issue. if u look at the time frame of how everything broke down one can see that the sheriff and snr where wasting their time on the wrong things. at the sime time a man was desperately loosing his life in one of the worst ways possible. im going to drop this subject because i pretty much know what happened to the man but i hoped that the life of this man and the others gone in the same river this week alone, serves a lesson to the people supposably trying to save our lives. do your job or quit. dnt make things look all nice on paper when u know its not true. thanks and goodbye

  4. Patrick Carson on June 27th, 2011 3:28 pm

    I too saw that, That gentleman was in the campsite next to me, So sad their weekend was over and they just finished up packing and were just going to the river to cool off and drive home.
    I also witness children playing all around that same section of the river unattended, the forest service needs to post signs A.S.A.P warning people not to go in, That river is deadly this year. Clueless campers are unaware of the strong current due to all the rain we had.

  5. James Burger on July 6th, 2011 3:59 pm

    Rudy and Patrick. I’m James Burger, reporter with The Bakersfield Californian. I’m looking into this situation and others on the Kern this year. I’d be interested in hearing more about your experience with this situation. I can be reached at

    To the moderator of this site, just a caution. You have replicated my story nearly word for-word here. As it is copyrighted material we would appreciate if you would note the source of your story.