Two Lake Yosemite drowning victims identified

rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.comJuly 13, 2013 

— The two men who drowned at Lake Yosemite over the holiday weekend were identified by the Merced County Sheriff's Department at a news conference Wednesday.

Curtis Davis, 44, and Jermaine Johnson, 23, both of Fresno, died after jumping from a pier near the main beach of the lake, according to Sheriff Mark Pazin.

Pazin said the incident happened about 2 p.m Thursday, when both men dove into the water. Johnson made it to the shoreline but heard cries for help from Davis.

"He swam out to help his friend, and the person in distress grabbed him," Pazin said. "They both went into the water. In a life-saving procedure, both people drowned."

Pazin stressed the importance of paying attention to warning signs posted near the water and following safety precautions.

"It was clearly marked do not dive or jump from the main walkway pier," Pazin said. "Unfortunately, both men did not heed the warning."

Lake Yosemite is a man-made reservoir owned by Merced Irrigation District and operated by Merced County.

Mike Jensen, MID spokesman, said the agency is saddened by the deaths and has ramped up its education efforts about water safety in recent years.

"Over the past couple of years, MID has significantly doubled down on its efforts to educate the community, and in particular youth, about water and canal safety," Jensen said. "We regularly warn children that canals and open waterways can have cold and swift moving water."

MID teamed up with the Merced Fire Department this summer to help them practice water rescue techniques at a canal.

Fire Chief Mike McLaughlin said the training greatly improved the department's ability to respond to water-related emergencies, which usually spike during the summer months.

"From swimming pools to creeks and rivers, it's something that we go to on a pretty regular basis," McLaughlin said. "Swim lessons are very important, and being aware of your surroundings. The signs are posted there for people's safety, and it's important to heed that advice."

Gabriel Santos, battalion chief with the Merced County Fire Department, was on the scene of Thursday's drowning and said people need to be familiar with waterways that they're about to swim in.

"If you are diving, make sure it's in a safe location appropriate for diving," Santos said. "There are no lifeguards on duty to enforce certain things, so people have to enforce the rules. We hope that this particular incident will open other people's eyes to the dangers that are out there."

Other water safety tips include swimming in pairs, wearing flotation devices, knowing your own swimming limitations and never mixing alcohol with water sports, Santos said.

Reporter Ramona Giwargis can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.com.

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