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Two drownings lead to closing of local rivers
Merced River
A 17-year-old boy was swept away in the swift currents of the Merced River at the McConnell State Recreation Area near Livingston while in a kayak on Saturday (Photo By Dr Vulpes).

The area’s lakes, rivers and streams will pose a tempting relief to the rising temperatures but emergency responders are warning that a quick dip could have hidden dangers for swimmers.

On Monday, Merced County Sheriff Vern Warnke issued an order to close the Merced River and San Joaquin River for recreational use. The order comes in the wake of two recent drownings and affects all access areas throughout Merced County.

“We’ve had two tragedies strike in the last week and a half – one in the San Joaquin River and one in Merced River,” Warnke said.

As a result of the snow melting in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, more water has been released into waterways, making conditions very dangerous.

“The waters are running high, running fast and running deep,” Warnke said, adding that people opting to go in the rivers are “putting other people’s lives in danger because people think they can handle it.”

The body of a 30-year-old mother who drowned trying to save her daughter from the San Joaquin River was recovered on Saturday after days of searching, the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Office reported.

drowning young mother
Brenda Duran, 30, drowned in the San Joaquin River at Fisherman’s Bend near Crows Landing trying to save her daughter and niece.

Around 6:30 p.m. on Thursday a 911 call was received regarding a water rescue of several people in the San Joaquin River at Fisherman’s Bend near Crows Landing.

After arriving on the scene, deputies were told that Brenda Duran, 30, was at the river watching her children play in the water. When her 11-year-old daughter began having difficulties keeping her head above the water, Duran jumped into the river to help her. While attempting to help her daughter, Duran also struggled to stay afloat.

Duran’s 14-year-old son saw what was happening and jumped in the water to try and help them. Duran’s son and daughter safely made it out of the river, but Duran did not.

The children were immediately given medical attention by ambulance personnel at the scene.

The Sheriff’s Office Air Unit, Modesto Police Department’s Air Unit, Sheriff’s Office Drone Team, Sheriff’s Office Special Vehicle Operations Unit, West Stanislaus County Fire Protection District, Patterson District Ambulance and AMR, Stanislaus County Fire Chaplains, Merced Sheriff’s Office, and Newman Police Department responded to the area and helped with the search.

The search continued until about 11 p.m. but was paused due to visibility and safety concerns, but sheriff’s patrol units remained at the scene throughout the night.

The Sheriff’s Department Dive Team was activated Friday morning and continued the search.

Around 5:30 p.m. on Saturday, Duran's body was located in the San Joaquin River outside of Newman by volunteers helping with the search.

Sheriff's deputies who were also in the area searching for her were immediately notified. An autopsy will be conducted later in the week to establish a cause of death.

Duran is survived by her three children, her husband, parents and extended family members.

A GoFundMe account has been set up to help the family with expenses. On the fundraising page Duran’s husband Jaime Aguilar described his wife as “a very thriving person, always smiling, never giving up and very compassionate.”

“In honor of her memory and the support of her family, we have created this GoFundMe page to raise funds for the Guzman Duran family during this unimaginable difficult time,” said Yadira Herrera, who created the page. “Your generosity will assist with essentials such as funeral expenses, basic needs like food, transportation, and more for the family. No donation is too small, and every contribution is deeply appreciated.”

The GoFundMe account can be found at

An hour after Duran’s body was found on Saturday, Merced County emergency responders were out at the McConnell State Recreation Area near Livingston after a 17-year-old boy was swept away in the swift currents while in a kayak.

The boy, identified by Fox 26 television station as Jagdeep Singh, asked if he could use a man’s kayak to take some pictures. It wasn’t long before he was in trouble and disappeared into the river.

The boy is presumed drowned and emergency personnel are still searching for his body.

Earlier in April, 24-year-old San Francisco resident Oscar Rafael Coello-Flores, was trying to swim from the shore of Mountain View Point to “Area-A” at Woodward Reservoir when he was overcome by the conditions and sank under the water. Emergency first responders were unable to locate the swimmer in time, and he unfortunately drowned approximately 45-feet away from the shore of Mountain View Point.

Melting snow flowing into waterways can add to the volume and speed of the water. This water may also be extremely cold and dangerous to swim in, even for the most experienced swimmers. 

In addition, swift water can conceal dangers lurking below the surface that you may not see, or carry debris such as tree branches that can trap you underwater. 

There are a few steps you can take to stay safe around swift water, so a fun day out doesn’t turn into a potential emergency. 

  • Never swim alone or jump in after someone who has fallen in. Always bring a friend or someone who can call for help if needed. 
  • Remember, swift water from snow melt runs cold, so just a few minutes in this water can incapacitate you. 
  • Most importantly, always wear a lifejacket.