It was the second death by drowning in the same Sequoia National Park location within two weeks. Other similarities in the recent incidents include (1) the victims jumped into the river to save a child who had slipped in, (2) both children were saved, and (3) neither of the rescuers could swim so didn’t stand a chance against the swift currents and cold water of the Kaweah River’s Middle Fork.
At 6:45 a.m. on Saturday, June 23, a family entered Sequoia National Park and stopped at the entrance sign parking lot. They took the trail that leads down to the river to a spot known locally as “the Indian Head,” in reference to Sequoia’s landmark entrance sign.
While at the river’s edge on that warm morning, a five-year-old boy slipped into the river. Victor Mozqueda, 22, of Santa Clarita, Calif., who was traveling with the family, immediately jumped in after the child, who has since been identified as Vincent Gonzalez.
Although Victor reportedly did not know how to swim, he was able to save the youngster. Here is how the incident is described on a GoFundMe page that is raising money to assist the family with burial expenses:
“Somehow, Victor managed to keep Vincent on top of his head even while he was underwater so that Vincent could breathe. He never let go of him, even when they went down under the currents a few times. The last effort [Victor] did was to throw Vincent out of the strong current so that his father could barely grab him. The boy’s father tried getting Victor out while pushing Vincent but Victor went under the strong current after pushing Vincent out. We have no idea how he managed to not let go of Vincent to save his own life. He pushed Vincent out before the current took him.”
Vincent Gonzalez’s parents also jumped in the water after Vincent. A trio of fishermen at the scene assisted with getting the parents and the child out of the water.
The park received the call for emergency assistance at about 7:15 a.m. National Park Service rescuers were assisted by Tulare County Fire Department and Sheriff’s Office personnel.
One of the fishermen and Vincent’s father had begun CPR and were able to resuscitate the young boy. He was carried up the trail to the waiting Exeter ambulance, which transported him to the park helipad where the Life Flight helicopter was waiting to take him to Kaweah Delta Hospital in Visalia.
Vincent was later transferred to the intensive care unit at Valley Children’s Hospital in Madera. He was released Monday, June 25.
Concurrently with Vincent’s rescue, a search commenced for Victor. It took two hours to find and retrieve the victim’s body, which was located near where the incident occurred.
Victor wasn’t related to the family he was traveling with but there were family ties. His sister is married to Vincent’s dad’s brother.
“The issue is not people trying to swim,” said Dave Fox, Sequoia District ranger. “People and children fall and slip into the river, and family members jump in after them to try to save them. In both cases, the family members who jumped in after the children did not survive.”