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Fast water, shopping carts and rocks | ‘Merman Mike’ shares firsthand knowledge of drowning dangers

A local YouTuber who dives Sacramento's rivers sees the rocks and snags beneath the surface that can be hazardous to swimmers and boaters.

FOLSOM, Calif. — Water rescues and drownings in recent days — paired with ongoing high temperatures — are prompting warnings from public safety officials, as fast-moving, cold water can threaten swimmers seeking relief from the heat.

“Merman Mike” is also urging people to be careful. Mike Pelley is a local YouTuber, who dives for valuables lost in local rivers and then works to return the items to their owners. He even picks up the trash he finds.

He met up with ABC10 along the American River Monday, near the Rainbow Bridge — a popular spot for cliff jumpers.

“It’s an extremely dangerous spot, and I find all sorts of things down there like Apple watches, necklaces, rings, phones. Tons of stuff, so a lot of people are losing their things as well,” Pelley said.

He doesn’t want people losing their things — or their lives, and he knows what is lurking just beneath the surface.

“In this particular one,” he said, gesturing just below the Rainbow Bridge, "there is a shopping cart, there’s some rocks, there are some pretty dangerous things.”

These are things people can hit their heads on or get their feet stuck in and drown. Even for people on boats or just swimming, Pelley said rocks can take you by surprise.

“A lot of these rocks – it’s like an iceberg: you can see about 10% of them and they’re giant boulders that go down probably 20, 25 feet, and they also go out a large surface area. So although you see a little point that’s coming out, you try to go around it and end up hitting a rock that’s maybe six inches below the surface,” he said. “It stops that paddleboard or kayak or little raft, but you keep going and end up falling out, and if there’s a large current and very fast-moving water, you could end up with your boat being left behind and you being sent downriver, and it’s always a dangerous situation.”

That’s why he and the Drowning Accident Rescue Team (DART) recommend people wear life jackets.

“Right now, the water is both faster and colder than it was a couple of weeks ago, so the risk is a little bit higher than normal,” DART spokesperson Zachary Corbo said.

The CDC lists drowning as one of the top causes of death for kids 14 and younger. In Sacramento County, wearing a life jacket is required for kids on the river who are 12 and younger.

"I'm never trying to make it sound like the river is this awful, scary place, but you want to know the dangers so you can enjoy the beauty,” Pelley said.

Corbo noted that while any drowning is terrible, the number of drownings in the Sacramento area is down from about five years ago.

Still—for context—Folsom Lake State Recreation Area typically sees two or three drownings per year, and so far this year, they’ve already seen four with much more of the season still ahead.

“The number of drownings that we’ve seen this year is a little bit higher than we would expect, unfortunately, and many of these are unfortunately preventable,” Corbo saids. “If folks had been wearing life jackets, they may have been able to be rescued or get themselves closer to shore. That’s why we would always recommend—if you’re in the water or on a vessel, know where the life jackets are or wear one the entire time. It may be the difference between life and death.”


Sacramento Dive and Rescue Team (DART) warns of recent drownings, water safety

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