These days, Roxane Maddox’s life revolves around Lake Shasta.
She posts daily Facebook updates about what’s going on there.
She’s in regular contact with Shasta County boating safety deputies.
And she does it all without actually facing the water.
That’s because Maddox and her family are reliant on divers to make the discovery they need but can’t bear to see with their own eyes: the body of her 12-year-old nephew, Auston Strole, who’s been missing since he was hit by a boat July 3 on the lake.
“We have people going out for us, because we know Auston wouldn’t want us to find him,” Maddox said. “We don’t get any closure until we bring him home.”
Auston’s apparent death stunned lake-goers, but they were in for even more horror just a few days later when deputies said 7-year-old Julian Zamora, of Salinas, drowned as his parents tried to get their boat to work.
“It’s extremely sad. I couldn’t even imagine being a part of either one of those families,” said Matt Doyle, general manager of Lake Shasta Caverns and president of the Shasta Lake Business Owners Association. “I mean, everybody on the lake is definitely feeling it.”
While 50-year-old Robert Noftz was arrested on suspicion of boating under the influence in connection with Auston’s disappearance, he wasn’t actually the one driving the boat — a girl with Auston’s family was, which deputies have said is legal.
Similarly, Julian wasn’t wearing a life jacket when he died, but deputies noted that he wasn’t legally required to on the houseboat his family was using.
Since both deaths are being treated as terrible accidents, Doyle said they serve as a good reminder for recreators to find a balance between preparedness and fun — to learn what they need to be vigilant but still feel relaxed in specific outdoor situations, like being outdoors when it’s extremely hot out or boating with a small child.
“We want people to come up and relax, enjoy vacations," he said. "But a lot of the time, they just don’t think properly. I like to call it ‘vacation mind.’”
That’s especially true for people who feel confident in their abilities, since they can become complacent about the chances of danger, Doyle said.
“It’s just like driving a car: Just because you’ve been doing it for 20 years, doesn’t mean you can take a day off (from being careful),” he said.
But Doyle said acknowledging a certain amount of risk is also just the reality.
“Dangers are associated with outdoor recreation,” Doyle said. “It’s kind of part of the reason people like it.”
Indeed, Auston went down when he told the girl operating the boat to try to get him to fall into the water for fun, deputies have said. Maddox said that was very true to form for him — the youngest of four siblings and a stepsibling. Auston’s family role was the sort of loveable goofball, she said.
“Auston was one of those kids, you told him to go stand at the door and you were going to throw a ball 100 mph at him, he would go do it just to make you happy. He was a selfless kid,” she said. “If it wasn’t for this community, my brother would not be in the shape he is in today to be able to focus on the other kids and keep fighting.”
Raised by a single father, Auston saw his share of struggles, Maddox said. That’s why the family plans to work with a local business to set up a scholarship fund for Red Bluff children in similar situations.
“Auston always was the underdog, you know? He was born early, he had to fight from day one, and he fought; he fought and he fought and he fought,” she said. “And I know he’s fighting for us to find him.”
But what happened to Auston hasn’t changed Maddox’s outlook on the outdoors — she said it’s reminded her to “love a little more” and not point fingers.
“This was a complete accident,” she said. “It could have happened to anybody at any time. There’s nothing they could have changed that would have made anything different, unless you want to live in a bubble. And Auston didn’t live in a bubble.”