Father & Son killed at low-head dam
June 20, 2011 12:10:00 AM
By Nancy Pasternack/Appeal-Democrat
A Plumas Lake teenager and stepfather drowned while kayaking on the Yuba River at the Daguerre Point Dam on Sunday. The party, which also included the boy's mother and another couple, were approaching the dam late Sunday morning when Tyler Minton, 17, reportedly paddled ahead and found himself unable to turn back against the swift current.
"They'd never done it before and they didn't know where they were," said Sgt. Bill Siler of the Yuba County Sheriff's Department. According to members of a swift-water rescue team from the Smartsville Fire Department, Minton's mother and friends were able to beach their kayaks on the downstream tip of a long, narrow island from which they saw the tragic events unfold.
After the teen lost control of his craft, his stepfather, Lee Mattice III, 43, attempted a rescue, but it was too late. "Both ended up going over," said Marc Zamora, volunteer fire chief at the Smartsville station. Two men fishing from boat near the base of the dam witnessed the incident and called 911. They spotted Mattice in the water after he had gone over the falls created by the dam - about a 20-foot drop. They pulled him to the bank and attempted to resuscitate him, according to Siler. Mattice was pronounced dead at the scene by a rescue crew.
Siler said he and his partner were patrolling the Feather River when they received the rescue call. They found Minton about three miles below the dam. The teen was taken to Rideout Memorial Hospital in Marysville by ambulance, where he was pronounced dead. The rest of the party, including Mattice's wife - Minton's mother - were picked up by a California Highway Patrol helicopter from the island where they had been stranded.
Minton's solo kayak was left behind, where several hours later it was still stuck in the hydrowash in the center of the river at the top of the dam. "A father and son perished on Father's Day," said Mike Davis, a member of the Smartsville swift-water rescue team. He shook his head. "That's the worst part," he said. The Smartsville rescuers pulled a fisherman a year ago from the same spot below the dam where Mattice and Minton perished.
The Daguerre Point Dam is located about nine miles above Marysville. "This is where the north, middle, and south forks of the Yuba converge and feed into one river, so the water is moving very fast," said Davis. An unusually heavy snow pack in the Sierra Nevada this year has made the spot - and the river in general - especially dangerous, he said. "Our river is swollen, it's moving fast, and it is cold," Davis said. Siler estimates the current water temperature at the spot to be about 54 degrees. Davis and Zamora estimate it to be in the low 40s. The shock of cold that hits a water-accident victim in such situations can accelerate panic and diminish confidence, Davis said.
Novice kayakers take to local rivers in great numbers during the summer, Zamora said, and put themselves in grave danger, especially during high water years like this one. "They buy them (kayaks) at yard sales, and most don't know what they're doing," he said. Several signs upstream of the Daguerre Point Dam warn boaters and sportsmen of the potential danger. Because of the rate of snowmelt, the flow of water over the top of the dam is roughly two feet deep now, according to Davis. During the driest months, he said, the same spot sometimes sees only a couple inches of water. "If you're not familiar with the river and you don't know how it's running, you should not even be out there," he said.
CONTACT Nancy Pasternack at 749-4781.