Tuolumne deputies searching for man involved in tubing accident

Tuolumne County sheriff's deputies are looking for a man they suspect collided with two inner tubers Monday on Lake Tulloch, leaving a Ceres man with a fractured spine, pelvis and femur as well as severe lung problems. The man fled without calling for help, the injured man's family said.

Aaron McClure, 21, had surgery Monday at Doctors Medical Center in Modesto, according to his mother, Tracy Blackwood. McClure has undergone bone grafting and had a titanium rod inserted into his right leg between his hip and knee. Wednesday afternoon, he received a blood transfusion and chest X-ray; doctors thought his lung may have collapsed. He was taken to a Kaiser facility in Fresno.

A second man, Kirk Dodd, also was riding on the large inner tube with McClure, Blackwood said. Dodd's arm was mangled and he had reconstructive surgery at Emanuel Medical Center in Turlock.

"He left them there to be fished out of the water by my husband and a boatload of children," Blackwood said. "It would have been OK if he would have stayed and helped instead of leaving my son there thinking he was drowning. He ran and never came back."

Three days of camping in tents by Lake Tulloch were winding down Monday afternoon. McClure had been at the lake with family members including his mother and her husband, James Blackwood; his fiancée, Genna Andrada; Andrada's stepfather, Dodd; and siblings and cousins.

About 4 p.m., James Blackwood took McClure, Dodd and several kids out in the boat for one last ride. Tracy Blackwood said she usually followed in the family's WaveRunner; this time she stayed at the picnic area with Andrada. The boat had barely pulled out of the 5-mph zone, near the south shore's marina, when the accident happened, she said.

Running parallel to it was a man in a gold or silver personal watercraft with mirrors and tan foot grips. Its front was rounded. The man was described by witnesses as 30 to 35 years old, unshaven, with light brown hair. He wore black swim trunks and a black life vest. And he had two small children with him: a 4- to 5-year-old girl with a blond ponytail and pink life jacket; and a 10- to 11-year-old with long dark hair and a black life vest. Witnesses weren't sure whether the child was a boy or girl.

As they they moved outside the 5 mph speed limit zone, witnesses said, the man in the watercraft made a sudden left turn, stopping in front of Blackwood's boat. James Blackwood swung to avoid him, but the tube he was towing collided with the watercraft. The two children on the watercraft landed in the water. As the watercraft's operator pulled them in, he asked if those in the Blackwood boat needed help, Tracy Blackwood said.

"Yeah, we need help bad," they told him.

Though he was close to the south shore marina, he took off toward the lake's north shore, leaving James Blackwood and a 16-year-old to drag the two injured men into the boat. As his boat reached shore, a 4-year-old on board screamed to Tracy Blackwood to call for an ambulance.

McClure was taken by helicopter to Doctors Medical Center, his mother said. It will be at least six weeks before he can put weight on his right leg.

McClure's fiancée said years of good memories at the lake won't make up for what happened Monday.

"We had fun there, but we're not going back."

Tuolumne sheriff's deputies ask anyone with information about the driver of the personal watercraft to call 533-5815.

Bee staff writer Emilie Raguso can be reached at eraguso@modbee.com or 578-2235.