Accident Database

Report ID# 3350

  • Caught in a Natural Hydraulic
  • Does not Apply
  • Other

Accident Description

Thomas James of Clayton county (53 y/o) was killed on brush creek. The cause is still not certain, but the rescue attempt was captured on a head cam.

kayaker died on Brush Creek (from Boatertalk)

A few of us heard the story first hand from Randy the Tulare Co Sheriff who handled the incident. At first he suspected the man could have had a heart attack but the autopsy results showed it was a drowning. He was found circling face down in "drop zero" eddy above "triple drop". This is the same hole/eddy that created all the excitement during the giant slalom race this year. I thought this is important to share since Brush Creek is a popular first creek run that's taken very lightly by many. This is a strong reminder to me that even on forgiving runs there are potential hazards and risks.

Bo James Fatality (First Person Account)

We were using Leland guide book and looking forward to boating in the Sierras. Neither me nor Dad had every kayaked in Utah, New Mexico, or California before this trip so we wanted to start with something class 4 to 4+ first. We headed up looking at the different sections of the Lower Kern on our drive up and then we stopped at Brush Creek. We checked the gage it was almost 3 but not quite. Although it looked low to us the book said between 2and 3 was a medium if i recall so we thought we would drive up have a look and see. The drive was not long so it was a great place for us to start our boating in California.

The drive was short and since it was just the two of us with just one vehicle we both decided this would be good since I could run shuttle after we were done since it was just 2.5 miles up the road. We geared up and hiked down to creek. It was a beautiful day and both me and dad were so excited. We kept talking about how much we had already done on the trip and what a great time we were having. He was talking about how he had already mountain biked Moab, kayaked a canyon and was now going to get to kayak a steep creek in the Sierras. Before putting on we scouted a ways down walking on the side of the creek. After seeing it and looking at the lines we put on. We went down and were having a blast.

We got to where we had not scouted so we got out again and scouted another section of the creek. Again we put back on and continued down with no problems having a blast. We then did the same routine again scouted a section and this section looked great there was about a 12-15 foot drop that looked like whitewater heaven and we were just enjoying our time together and the great scenery and fun boating. We ran this section and still no problem. We went down just a bit farther then had to get out and scout again. We scouted this section carefully not seeing any hazards that we did not think we could avoid. Oh and how we were running this was I would go first run the drop catch an eddy at the bottom i was helmet camming so i was go then watch dad go off the drops then after seein he was fine i would turn and continue on down and repeat. We put in after scouting this section and I continued to do as we had been doing the whole trip and many other kayaking days in our past. I went down and caught an eddy and watched dad come down.

I did this right where it happpened. I went down caught a very small eddy. I watched and dad came off the drop, he seemed fine. The last thing I saw dad was upright at the bottom of the drop I turned and went down the next drop. I was waiting, dad did not come, I was thinking ok he caught that eddy I was in so i waited and put my paddle up to signal him down. Still he did not come then his paddle floated by me, well I figured I guess he somehow swam somewhere so I grabbed his paddle and went off the final drop because i could not get out of my boat from where I was at. I went down still not thinking that anything was wrong just that he had swam. I was in a hurry to get to shore I pulled my boat up and grabbed my throw rope just in case he needed help getting his boat. I then tried to go up the river right side of creek but i fell into creek as it was steep, so i jumped across creek and started up the river left side. I then saw his boat float down the final drop so now I am a little worried but still thinking he swam but he is fine, its low flow, there was no beat you to death hydraulics he is an experienced kayaker and good swimmer he is fine.

I am on the cliff hiking up and I can see him. He is in the eddy and it appears that his head is above water and he is swimming but just going round and round in the recirculating eddy. I hurried and run toward him thinking he is still fine it is just too steep and slick to get out. I run and throw him my rope but I immediately see he is unconcious. I jump into the recirculating eddy with him and grab him. His lips are blue so I hurry to get him out of water to do CPR. The water is not deep in the eddy but it is slick. I am holding him and we are just circling. I able with not too much problem keep both his head and mine above water but I cant get him on shore. I then realize if I am going to do anything I am going to have to get out and then pull him out.

I get out of the eddy by just catching the current and letting it take me out, it was not a struggle for me to get out of this eddy or keep my head above water. I am on the side and he is recirculating but I cant grab him, so I jump back in the eddy and try throwing him to shore its not working so I grab him and do just what I did to get out of the eddy I held him and I swam into current as hard as I can and we wash out and down the next little slide. I pull him out of creek on the bank, take his helmet off cut his drytop so blood will be able to flow easier to his head and start CPR.

I am not going into any more detail than this on the cpr, I am trained in CPR just never thought I would have to use it especially on my own dad. I had all of this on my helmet cam. From the time I last saw him untill I got to him it was almost 9 minutes. It took me another 2 to 3 minutes to get him on the bank and start CPR, thats 12 minutes from the time I saw that he was completely fine to the time I started CPR. Looking at the time on the Helmet came I continued cpr for 14 minutes that was on my helmet cam then my memory chip was full. I don't know exactly how long I continued to do cpr after the memory chip ran out but it was a while longer.

I did CPR till my arms were completely exhausted probably around 45 minutes. After knowing that nothing I was going to do would bring dad back I thought that my only possible hope would be to get to a phone very very fast and a helicopter be close and get him to hospital to see if they could bring him back even though I know now that would be impossible. Dad never had a pulse the whole time that I was with him after I turned when he was ok. I then crossed the creek and ran up the mountain as fast as I could to my truck and speed down the road till I got to the dam where I was able to find help and call.

My  Dad, Bo James, died on Brush Creek June 14th 2010. I do not know what happened or what went "wrong" from when I saw him ok last until I saw him again 10 minutes later when he was already dead.


He started paddling a kayak in the late 70's, I guess you could say he has been "kayaking" since he was a teenagers bc I have all kinds of stories from his brothers about him dragging them down Stekoa Creek in Clayton when they were just kids on those old styrofoam surf boards when the creek was up. For those wondering if this creek was too much I don't think it was. He had been boating for over 30 years. He had ran Chattooga sect 3 at 6 feet, he ran Tallulah Gorge a bunch, Section 4 countless times, Cheoah, Overflow, The Green Narrows, and many other rivers in the class 4+ and some low class 5. He has swam out of places much worse than where he was. I have no doubt in my mind now that it was just his time and it would not have mattered if we were kayaking in California or laying on the couch in Clayton Ga, it was just his time for God to bring him home.

Logan James

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