PUEBLO COUNTY - Historic water levels could be to blame for a man's death at Lake Pueblo State Park Sunday morning. The Pueblo County Coroner's Office confirmed that 23-year-old Steven Kelly, of Parker, CO, drowned in the Arkansas River while tubing near the Cottonwood picnic area around 11:30am. Kelly was a 157-pound starter for the Colorado State University-Pueblo wrestling program.
That morning, a video on Kelly's Facebook Page showed him standing on a bridge in the picnic area, talking about how he was going to tube the river alone. "The water's never been this hard, this rough," said another tuber, Jose Vera. People often tube the Arkansas River, entering downstream from the Lake Pueblo spillway. The park only requires that tubers wear a life jacket, it's unknown if Kelly was wearing one.
Vera and some of his friends were planning on floating the river Sunday afternoon, knowing it was risky. "They didn't tell us we can't tube but to be very cautious, the water is really rough," Vera said. Vera said park rangers didn't tell him that a man had drowned in the river just a few hours earlier, only that they had to go and get life jackets if they wanted to float the river. "It's kind of scary, I wish they would have told us, they talked to us, told us we needed life vests," Vera explained.
With the river rushing faster and higher than normal, visitor Vernon Rivera said he was surprised anyone was even attempting to float the Arkansas on an inner tube. "We haven't seen them that often because the water is really fast and wide," said Rivera. "So I am kind of surprised on that you know." Despite the drowning, Vera and his friends were still considering floating the river, but entering further downstream from where Kelly apparently lost his life to the swift water. "Definitely be more careful, got to watch out for my friends, make sure everyone is ok, make sure we're all holding on together," he said. The coroner did rule Kelly's death as a drowning, but an autopsy report will determine if there were any other factors in the accident, such as drugs, alcohol or medical condition.