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4 drownings called unusual

Ogden police say alcohol was involved in 2 deaths

SHARE 4 drownings called unusual

OGDEN — Nathan Hurst and David Starr spent their last summer afternoon this week swimming and skateboarding along the Ogden River Parkway.

Wearing shorts and sneakers, Hurst, 17, would get a running start, then leap off a 10-foot ledge into the murky river below. His feet touched the river bottom on each jump into the six to eight feet of water.

"We have to make sure we jump wide because if we don't we'll hit a rock," said a dripping-wet Hurst as he stood along the ledge waiting for his next jump.

"That's why I'm scared to jump all the time," added Starr, 13.

With a string of river drownings this summer, Starr's fears seem well-founded. Since June, four people have died in the Ogden and Weber rivers, both of which run through Ogden.

Although the Weber County Sheriff's Office and Ogden Police Department do not keep statistics on river drownings from past years, officials from both agencies say four drownings in one summer is uncommon.

"It's a high number," said Sgt. Rocky Gallegos, a 26-year veteran of the Ogden Police Department. "It's been an unusual summer."

The Ogden River's first casualty of the summer was 35-year-old Jerilynn Tapoof. The death is being investigated as suspicious. Tapoof, a transient, was found floating in the river June 24 west of Wall Avenue between 17th and 20th streets.

Police blame alcohol for the deaths of Jorge Gonzalez Ortiz, who drowned July 7 in the Ogden River, and James Linder, who drowned July 26 in the Weber River.

"When you've got alcohol you can drown in six inches of water," Gallegos said.

Ortiz, 41, Mexico, was drinking with friends but dived in after he was left by himself. Gallegos said Ortiz hit his head on a rock and never resurfaced.

"A lot of times it appears to be smooth, but there are a lot of jagged rocks in there," Gallegos said. Rocks and debris, often well-disguised under the murky water, can be deadly if swimmers aren't careful.

Linder, 39, Ogden, had also been drinking with friends when he jumped in.

"He was in six to eight feet of murky water," Gallegos said. "By the time they got to him he'd already drowned."

Police still don't know what led to the latest drowning in the Ogden River. A 13-year-old boy found the body of Alan H. Anderson, 60, Ogden, floating in the river near Monroe Boulevard and 1600 South Aug. 15.

Hurst himself has smacked his face and chest while swimming in the river. Standing chest deep in the river, he pointed out a piece of rebar he encountered on a previous trip to the river.

"I'm bouncing on it right now," he said.

Statements like that kept Starr on the river's edge much of the afternoon. He finally climbed down the rocks to the water's edge and jumped in just before the boys left to do more skateboarding.

Swimming in pairs, as Hurst and Starr did, is the best drowning deterrent, Gallegos said.

"Don't go alone," he said. "If you don't know how to swim, I'd wear a life jacket. It's not even a bad idea to wear a helmet."

E-mail: djensen@desnews.com