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.