There was a fatality on the Kern River on June 6, 1998. According to veteran local kayaker Tom Johnson (no relation), Martha Johnson, 41, flipped after being hit by a paddle raft while running some Class III rapids near Kernville, CA. She rolled up, then flipped again. Her kayak was washed into some low-hanging trees; her body was next seen floating face down in the current. Another kayaker found her body about a half mile downstream and stayed there until rescuers arrived. The men in the raft that struck the kayak carrying Martha Johnson left the area without contacting sheriff’s officials, but it appears to have been an accident and no charges were filed.
SOURCE: Tom Johnson, in an article in the Bakersfield Californian
Man sees river take wife after kayak hit Filed: July 6, 1998
By STEVE E. SWENSON Californian staff writer e-mail: email@example.com
Martha Johnson's husband watched helplessly from the shore Sunday as a raft knocked over a kayak carrying his wife in the Kern River, causing her to drown, a witness recalled Monday. Kirby Johnson was devastated by what he saw, said witness Tom Johnson of Kernville, who is not related to the drowning victim or her husband.
"You don't sleep much after that," said Tom Johnson, 80, who is Kernville's most recognized kayaker. He trained and coached the 1972 U.S. Olympic kayak team, and he's taught or helped countless kayakers, including Martha Johnson, who had borrowed his kayak. Sunday, the kayak carrying Martha Johnson, 41, of the San Diego area, rolled upside down after being hit by the raft, but she was able to right it, Tom Johnson said. The waves capsized her again, Tom Johnson said. The kayak then went into some low-hanging trees. Martha Johnson's body next was seen floating face down in the current, said Kern County sheriff's Sgt. Craig Porter. He said it was a good bet that she had been knocked out in the turbulence, even though she was wearing a helmet and a life jacket.
Another kayaker found Martha Johnson's body about a half mile downstream and stayed with it until sheriff's rescuers arrived, Porter said. The men in the raft that struck the kayak carrying Martha Johnson left the area without contacting sheriff's officials, but the incident appears to have been an accident, Porter said. Martha Johnson, of Alpine, had been kayaking for at least five years. Besides her husband, she is survived by her 20-month-old son, Ben. Signs posted at the mouth of the Kern Canyon and near Lake Isabella announce 195 river-related deaths since 1968. Many others have been rescued from the river. Kern County sheriff's deputies hope that continued news coverage will make people think twice before going into the river.
"Unfortunately, it's not against the law to be in the river as much as I'd like to make it that way," Kern County sheriff's Cmdr. Stan Moe said Monday. He and others fear that the toll will mount because people don't heed the warnings. Even as rescuers search for bodies in the river, people without life jackets float by in inner tubes. Moe, the commander over the sheriff's rescue units, said he has advised deputies to issue child endangerment citations if they see children playing in the water unsafely near their parents. One such citation was issued last year. [Watson Realty] [Image] [Image] [Image] [Image] Copyright 1998, The Bakersfield CalifornianOn July 6 an accident many predicted finally happened on the Kern River near Kernville, CA. As a posting from AW director Rich Penny explained, Martha Johnson, a five year veteran kayaker, was struck by a private raft and capsized. Johnson attempted to roll up, but, as her husband watched in horror from shore, she flipped again and washed downstream into a strainer formed by overhanging branches. Johnson's body next was seen floating face down in the current. Another kayaker found her body about a half mile downstream and stayed with it until rescuers from the sheriff's department arrived. Kern County sheriff's Sgt. Craig Porter speculated to the press that she May have hit her head. His boss, with questionable logic, indicated that he'd like to close the river entirely but couldn't! The private rafters continued downriver, oblivious to the tragedy they had caused. Witnesses believe it was an accident, rather than a malicious act.
1. It’s not clear what mechanism caused her to become helpless in the water. Sheriff’s deputies speculated that there was a head injury, but I have no confirmation of this.
2. On heavily used rivers, following other boaters too closely is a real safety hazard. Many of us felt that it was not surprising that one of these collisions would result in a fatality. Sometimes the only thing to do is eddy out and wait for an opening.
3. Kern County sheriff Stan Moe said this to reporters: “Unfortunately, it’s not against the law to be in the river as much as I’d like to make it that way.” Law enforcement officials in the area have been hostile to river runners for some time. They fail to make a distinction between trained whitewater sportsmen and casual users like swimmers and tubers. Ms. Johnson had been paddling for five years. She was wearing a helmet and a life jacket. She was well trained and had every right to be there.