hasta Lake's John Lee Morales, 50, was charged with two counts of felony child endangerment today following the tragic death of his 11-year-old daughter in a rafting accident on July 18. While Shasta County Sheriff Tom Bosenko and District Attorney Jerry Benito held a press conference to announce the charges, Morales pleaded not guilty in Shasta County Court.
The rafting accident took place in a swift gorge on Clear Creek. A 12-year-old girl, a friend of Morales' daughter, was also in the raft and was wearing a life jacket, Bosenko said; she survived the affair and was rescued. John Morales and his daughter were not wearing life jackets and the total weight of the three rafters exceeded the two-person inflatable raft's 400-pound capacity, Bosenko said in a press statement. California law requires that any child under age 13 wear a flotation device while on the water.
The release also stated that Morales had been warned by bystanders not to run the section of river because of its danger and that the girls said they were afraid to try the section. Morales had been drinking prior to the accident and launched the kayak despite the warnings, Bosenko said.
Additional charges have been filed against Morales because he was on bail in another felony case when his alleged violations occurred. In that case, Morales had been charged with a felony DUI and had multiple convictions of DUIs within the last 10 years.
"This case is more than a tragic accident," Bosenko said in his statement. "This situation could have been avoided. It was the result of negligence and child endangerment, and a death that occurred while drinking alcohol. My sympathy goes out to the surviving family and friends. My thanks goes out to the citizens who made intervention and helped at the scene. Thanks also goes to all of the rescue personnel and our staff who assisted and investigated this incident."
Morales is currently in jail with his bail set at $500,000.
Girl drowns in Clear Creek; 2 others rescued by CHP helicopter
Boat is a single Sevylor kayak.
A local Class V boater says that the Saeltzer (Dam) Gorge is where the accident occurred. It's immediatly below the site where a dam was removed by DOI dambusters. It's below the takeout for the usual Class IV (V) run from Placer Road bridge to Clear Creek Road bridge. It is class V-VI.He has only done part of the gorge once at low water, portaging in the middle. He should have portaged the remainder: It's narrow, twisty, and undercut with a propensity for catching a logs. At flood flows of 6k+ it fills in and might be runable, unless you get stuck in one of the big holes.
An 11-year-old Shasta County girl who drowned Sunday evening in Clear Creek west of Redding was identified today by the Shasta County Coroner’s Office as Lily Morales. The girl, a Sequoia Middle School student, apparently drowned after she and two other people, including her Shasta Lake father, were tossed from flimsy blowup rafts they had attempted to ride through a white-water gorge. An autopsy is scheduled for Wednesday.
Sgt. Jason Gassaway of the Shasta County Sheriff’s Office said Monday that the 11-year-old girl, her father, and a 12-year-old close family friend, who has not yet been publicly identified, were riding through the deep gorge when the tragic accident happened. The 11-year-old’s father and her 12 year-old friend were trapped in the gorge until a California Highway Patrol helicopter hoisted them off the rocks below. “It’s a very, very dangerous gorge,” said Gassaway, adding that the 12-year-old girl was the only one of the trio wearing a life jacket.
The drowning was reported just before 5 p.m. a few hundred yards upstream of the Clear Creek Greenway recreation area off Clear Creek Road. Gassaway said sheriff’s investigators are continuing their investigation into the accident, which should be finished within the next few days. “There’s quite a bit of follow up,” he said, adding that investigators will be re-contacting witnesses and others to obtain additional statements to determine exactly what happened prior to the accident But, he said, it was too early to say whether any criminal charges, such as child endangerment, might be brought against the father. “We have not made that decision” to recommend possible criminal charges, he said.
Randy Gulledge, 21, of Happy Valley said he saw the group begin its float down the gorge and he tried to warn the rafters that their blowup rafts weren’t safe. They ignored him, he said As they entered the gorge, the 11-year-old girl panicked and flipped the raft over, Gassaway has said. Gulledge said he watched the girl go underwater, and he and a friend spent about 10 minutes trying to dive into the pool to reach her. After 10 minutes, he finally was able to get down deep enough into the current to grab the girl by her long hair and pull her to the surface, he said.
He and his group tried to resuscitate the girl despite having only a limited knowledge of CPR. They were relieved by other people trained in CPR. “I’m pretty sure she’s gone,” he said, his voice shaking. One of those who took over CPR was Kayo Saechao, 39, of Redding. Standing on the rocks and drenched in sweat, he watched as the girl was carried away on a backboard, paramedics and firefighters still doing chest compressions on her limp body.“We tried to bring her back, you know,” Saechao said. “But they said she’d been pinned under for at least 10 minutes.” Saechao paused and pointed over the rocks to where his family had gathered. He said the drowned girl reminded him of his daughter. “What do you do, man?” he said, trying not to cry. “I mean what do you do?”
With the help of an off-duty nurse, Shasta County deputies Nick Day and Julie Soksoda took over CPR from bystanders like Saechao, and they were relieved by paramedics and firefighters, who continued resuscitation efforts en route to the hospital, Gassaway said. The girl was pronounced dead at Mercy Medical Center in Redding. A chaplain was called to the hospital to offer what comfort he could to the girl’s family. Meanwhile, while CPR was being performed on the girl, the 12-year-old girl and the man remained trapped on rocks, surrounded by white water. The girl sobbed as she leaned on the canyon wall. She had to shout over the current to the deputies and firefighters standing on the canyon rim at least 30 feet above her head. A firefighter shimmied his way down the cliff to reach her and attached a harness around her waist. She was hoisted to safety by the CHP helicopter. The man, who was farther upstream, was able to secure the hoist around his waist. Their rafts, an inflatable kayak and lay-down mats, bobbed in an eddy across the creek from the girl.
Gassaway said the rafts that the group used were made for floating on a lake and not for shooting down a rushing, white-water gorge. Gulledge said he was appalled at the decision to keep floating downstream, even after they were warned not to.“It was pure negligence is what it was,” he said.
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Lily Morales’ mother struggles to talk about her daughter as if she’s really gone.
On Tuesday while describing the outgoing, straight-A student who drowned Sunday less than a month from her 12th birthday, Leigh Ann Anderson unconsciously alternated from present to past tense. “She wants to be the teenage girl that she’s not,” she said. “But she was still an innocent little girl.” Anderson, 41, has similarly spent nights and days since Sunday evening alternating between anguish and anger over her daughter’s death. She believes Lily didn’t have to die. “I can’t believe she didn’t have a life vest on,” Anderson said. “It shouldn’t have happened.”
An autopsy performed Tuesday confirmed that the girl died from drowning.
On Sunday afternoon, Lily, her father, John Morales of Shasta Lake, and two family friends, a man and a 12-year-old girl, attempted to float down Clear Creek in flimsy inflatable rafts. nderson said Lily lived with her and Lily’s 21-year-old brother Zacharie Morales in Redding and only occasionally spent time with her father. In a comment posted Tuesday on Redding.com, Anderson said John Morales had told her that he was taking the girl to Brandy Creek Beach on Whiskeytown Lake, not that they were going floating on a river. A few hundred yards upstream of the Clear Creek Greenway recreation area off Clear Creek Road, the group approached a steep gorge filled with white-water rapids.
Witnesses said they tried to warn them their rafts couldn’t handle the raging current below.
It’s not clear whether John Morales was in the water with the others when they went into the gorge, but authorities say that Lily panicked and that her raft overturned in the white water. Her 12-year-old friend and the other man, neither of whom has been identified by authorities, were trapped in the gorge and were hoisted out of the canyon by a California Highway Patrol helicopter. The 12-year-old girl was the only one of the group wearing a life vest, sheriff’s officials say.
Bystanders say they spent 10 minutes diving into the deep pool where Lily submerged. When they finally were able to pull her out by her hair, they tried frantically to perform CPR on her lifeless body until sheriff’s deputies, firefighters and paramedics arrived.
At the scene Sunday, Morales was hunched over in anguish near his daughter’s body as a group of paramedics and firefighters performed CPR. Frantic and crying, he followed behind them as they carried her body to the ambulance. She was pronounced dead at Mercy Medical Center in Redding.
Anderson said law enforcement investigators came to her home Tuesday. She said they told her they were considering seeking child endangerment charges against Morales. Anderson said she hopes they will.
Shasta County Sheriff’s Capt. Jeff Foster said his detectives are interviewing witnesses this week following up on concerns that the adults allowed the girls to go down the gorge at all, let alone without a vest for Lily. “A lot of people who kayak rapids around here won’t go through that gorge,” Foster said.
When reached on his cell phone Tuesday afternoon, John Morales said local media outlets “lied about everything.” He didn’t elaborate. "I’m going down to talk to a grief counselor right now,” he said. “I could barely compose myself enough to get a ride to get down here.” He said to call back later in the evening, but he couldn’t be reached again.
Lily’s friends, 12-year-old twins Gillian and Kelly Pringle, describe their classmate as a fun-loving girl who liked to joke around, tell stories and play bass clarinet in the Sequoia Middle School band. “She was really funny,” Kelly Pringle said. In the spring they traveled to Disneyland on a class trip and marched in a parade.
Anderson said her daughter, who also loved playing with her great uncle’s puppy and her cat Lilac, described the Disneyland trip as the best experience of her life. She blames her ex-husband for Lily’s death. “I told him he should have died trying to save her,” she wrote in her Redding.com comment. “I would have.”
Services for Lily are pending at Allen & Dahl Funeral Chapel in Redding.