April 20th, 4:00pm, Rio Nido, CA -- My daughter & I were enjoying a nice, late-afternoon dip at the Rio Nido Pool, when chaos suddenly erupted with shrill sirens & the deafening roar of helicopters circling overhead. The cheerful mood flattened because we all knew what it meant: The River has claimed another human soul.
Sure enough, an article appeared on SFGATE the next day: Russian River drowning victim identified. The 24-year-old man’s name was Roman Alexandrovich Jones (friends called him “RJ”), he lived in Monte Rio & worked at the Northwood Restaurant. The Santa Rosa Press Democrat’s article, obnoxiously headlined, Drowning victim was celebrating rebate check, said Mr. Jones had “had consumed large amounts of alcohol” that day.” Otherwise, it was generally sympathetic towards Mr. Jones & his parents in New Mexico, who had adopted him from one of those notorious Russian orphanages at age 9.
According to his parents, Mr. Roman’s rough early childhood & initial lack of English made it hard for him to adjust in school, & he sometimes seemed troubled. He up & moved here rather suddenly, stayed in touch only sporadically with his folks, & appears to have been somewhat lost & drifting (as so many of us are in our 20’s). Based on local gossip & comments made to the news articles, Mr. Roman seems to have been well-liked & to have a good reputation.
A friend of Mr. Jones', whose handle is justtoamuseu, wrote on the SFGATE Web site:
I personally knew "RJ", and he was a very clean-cut man. I did not know him to have any serious alchohol problem. I am very saddened by the whole event and intend on finding out through other friends what happened to him, I found this story very strange also, because there are conflicting versions of the accident. The press democrat stated in yesterday's paper that he was with a friend.... nothing was said about there being a pier, that I recall. He was very physically fit and intelligent, speaking four different languages. He will be deeply missed.
Although I didn’t know RJ Jones, I feel sad about this incident & offer my sincere condolences to his friends & family. The Russian River is so beautiful & nurturing in so many ways that we often forget how dangerous it can be. So now, I’ll go into my obnoxious blah-dee-blah lecture. As a mother, I feel that nagging is my role & privilege in life.
ENJOY THE RUSSIAN RIVER, BUT ENJOY IT SAFELY:
The Russian River is beautiful & the water is cool & refreshing. But it is also unpredictable, runs swiftly, & has weird little whirlpools, rip currents, & underwater debris which can catch even the most experienced & sober swimmer by surprise.
- If you go swimming off a private dock, or one of our lovely, unofficial “secret beaches,” ALWAYS bring a “swimming buddy” along with you.
- Also, scan the water beforehand so you can avoid those odd little ripples & whirling eddies, which can signify swift undercurrents (which can drag you down) &/or large debris (which can catch on you & keep you down).
- I don’t recommend any serious swimming before July, because the water’s cold & can cause even good swimmers to cramp up.
- Stay alert & keep an eye on things, even at the public beaches, because few of them have any lifeguards.
- If you’re in a boat, ALWAYS wear a life vest & make sure everyone else does too.
- If you have kids, you need to keep an eye on them at all times & keep them away from areas that look rough or where you can’t see the bottom.
- If you’re drinking alcohol (or partaking in other inebriating substances), don’t go in, or at least stay in the shallows near the shore.
- Be aware that when you – or your companions -- dial 911 from a cell phone, you get California Highway Patrol (not the local emergency responders). It often takes forever to get through & when you do, they’ll need to tell them where you are. This means that you need KEEP TRACK OF WHERE YOU ARE.
- Consider taking courses in Water Safety, First Aid, & CPR. They’re offered frequently & inexpensively in most communities. Swimming lessons are also a good idea, for adults as well as kids.
- PLEASE don’t let your children go to the River unsupervised, even if they know how to swim. At least wait until Parks & Recreation puts up the summer dams & go with your kids the first few times to scope out the water & tell them where they can & cannot go.
- Those rope swings along our shores are awfully fun, but DON’T swing until you test the waters. Since we didn’t have much rainfall this year, the water is probably too shallow for jumping off the rope swings, any way.
- If you take your kids to my favorite spot on the River side of Goat Rock Beach (facing the charming little town of Jenner), watch them like hawks! It’s fairly safe there (at least when Nibbles the elephant seal isn’t around), but the ocean is just a hop, skip & a jump away.
- Speaking of the Pacific Ocean … although we do have some safe, “swimming beaches,” (like Doran Beach & Salmon Creek in Bodega Bay), it is generally NOT safe to swim or play tag with the waves around here -- & in most of coastal California. Our East Coast & European visitors REALLY don’t get it, because they’re used to the Atlantic Ocean, which has a long & shallow continental shelf. Out here, we don’t have that. The Pacific Ocean goes from knee-deep to WAY-deep in a matter of yards & can sweep you away or dash you against the rocks in no time flat. As for all those surfers gaily cavorting amongst the waves … they’re highly experienced in the water around here & even they’ll admit that they’re totally insane (as my surfer friend once explained, “If a surfer gets attacked by a shark, & it isn’t bad enough to go to the hospital, he’ll go back in.”
- NEVER, NEVER jump off that danged Hacienda bridge! I know it’s tempting. But every single year, someone seems to die or become permanently maimed from doing this!