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Two people die in four days along Clear Creek; river experts urge everyone to take water safety seriously

Two people die in four days along Clear Creek
Posted at 4:45 PM, Jul 07, 2022

JEFFERSON COUNTY, Colo. — Two people died in only four days while recreating on Clear Creek in Jefferson County, according to officials who provided an update Wednesday on the importance of water safety as Coloradans head outside to enjoy the summer months.

On July 2, four people were riding in an inflatable boat along Clear Creek near Tunnel 1 of U.S. Highway 6. when their boat capsized and all four rafters were ejected. Three were able to self-extract from the creek, but the fourth rafter was found unconscious and face-down in the water. An off-duty paramedic began CPR on the woman, who was eventually taken to the hospital where she was pronounced dead.

Then, on July 5, four people were tubing along Clear Creek west of the City of Golden, when they were ejected from their flotation devices. Two were able to self-extract, and the third was rescued by the Golden and Arvada Fire Departments after clinging to a rock in the middle of the creek. The fourth person was found unconscious and was transported to a hospital, where he later died.

Both of the deaths happened in the same general area of Clear Creek. Those with Jefferson County Open Space said the creek is not safe anywhere west of the Grant Terry Bridge.

“This canyon is deceiving. It is beautiful. It is wonderful. It is a place to find solitude. But, it can also lull you into a false sense of security," said Mary Ann Bonnell of Jefferson County Open Space. "You need to take this canyon and this river extremely seriously.”

Jon Baskin helps out at Golden River Sports over the summer. He has been rafting for more than four decades, and loves spending time on the water. However, he says when renting tubes to customers, they rarely decide to take a life jacket or helmet with them.

“They think it's going to be like the lazy river at Elitch’s, but less expensive," Baskin said. “It doesn't matter what flow it is. You have to take safety precautions, know and understand what the river is capable of, and then it can be a great time.”

There are flags along Clear Creek indicating the speed of the current on any given day. On Wednesday, it was a yellow flag, which is the speed when firefighters make the most rescues.

“No one goes on the river thinking this is my last day here. But it very much happens, and very much can be avoided," said Rebecca McGehee, who was kayaking on Wednesday.

McGehee worked as a raft guide last season in California. When she was there, she watched as a man jumped into the water without a life jacket.

“I was actually the first one to respond. I jumped in, I pulled his body out. He was pulseless. We administered CPR for 26 minutes before the paramedics were able to get to us. And he did not make it," McGehee remembered. "It was absolutely heartbreaking. It was heartbreaking for his family, his friends, everyone else who was involved. And it was avoidable, and that's what's so sad.”

McGehee would like to see life jackets required on the water, but those with Jefferson County Open Space said it is difficult to enforce. They explained they need to balance safety with an equal opportunity for outdoor recreation.