15th Colorado Water Attraction Death of 2017 Shows Risks of Cliff Diving

The Green Mountain Reservoir cliff from which an accident victim leaped to his death late on August 1.
The Green Mountain Reservoir cliff from which an accident victim leaped to his death late on August 1. Summit County Sheriff's Office
A thus-far-unidentified 27-year-old man is suspected of having drowned after leaping from a cliff-jumping site at Green Mountain Reservoir in Summit County. The fatality is at least the fifteenth at a Colorado water attraction this year, and like Haley Clarke's jumping-the-falls death in 2016, it spotlights the risks of extreme diving.

As we've reported, the first water-attraction fatality of the season in Colorado involved a man who lost his life during a commercial rafting expedition on the Arkansas River circa April 30. On June 3, Bryan Reim was swept away at the Potholes, a busy Western Colorado recreation site, and two days later, on June 5, 32-year-old Elyssa McCreight died during a rafting trip on an Eagle County portion of the upper Colorado River known as Boneyard Rapids.

Next came a June 28 post headlined "The River in Colorado Where Two People Have Drowned in Nine Days," which initially dealt with two fatalities on the Poudre. The first victim was Maximillian Lopez, an eighteen-year-old from Washington state, who died while tubing on June 18. The second incident involved William McHarg, a 64-year-old from Severance, who lost his life after the commercial raft in which he was traveling flipped on June 27.

We later updated the item to include information about a second death on the 27th, this one involving Lafayette's Mark Wher, also 64, who died after falling into the Arkansas River rapids known as Widow Maker.

Shortly thereafter, we learned about a third water-related casualty on the 27th, this one taking place at Eggleston Lake on the Grand Mesa, a gorgeous area along Colorado's Western Slope. Larry Smith Jr., 44, was paddle-boarding with a woman when he fell into the lake's frigid waters. And Cord Carpenter died at Jackson Lake, in Morgan County, after being reported missing on July 1. He was initially suspected of drowning, but subsequent reports suggest that he was felled by another health issue.

Jefte Flores drowned at Green Mountain Reservoir in 2015. - FACEBOOK
Jefte Flores drowned at Green Mountain Reservoir in 2015.
A ninth fatality involved Russ Zieglowsky, a 52-year-old former city councilman from Washington, Iowa; he died on June 21, but most Colorado news agencies didn't learn about what happened until a couple of weeks later. Zieglowsky toppled overboard on what has been described as a fairly easy stretch of the Taylor River, but he didn't respond to CPR. The official cause of death was drowning.

Then, at about 2 p.m. on July 15, Michael Brinks, a 66-year-old Craig resident, and a companion were traveling along the Tepee Rapids portion of the Yampa River in an inflatable kayak when he hit a rock. At that point, the kayak capsized, and even though the man was wearing a personal flotation device, he never came back to the surface. The person with Brinks reportedly kayaked more than twenty miles to Hells Canyon Ranch to seek help, with Dinosaur National Monument personnel learning what happened at about 9 p.m. The following day, rescue operations were launched, and the victim's body was recovered approximately three miles downstream from the accident, just shy of noon on the 16th.

That same day, July 16, Claudia Acuña-Gallegos, a resident of Albuquerque, New Mexico, drowned after falling out of his tube at Smelter Rapid, in Whitewater park. Another tubing death, this time involving a 48-year-old woman on Clear Creek, took place on July 21. The next day brought a third fatality related to tubing, this time involving a 43-year-old Castle Rock man who drowned near the Platte River Campground in Jefferson County. And fifteen-year-old Trent Nims failed to respond to medical treatment after being pulled from Cherry Creek Reservoir that same day, July 22.

The most recent incident took place on the afternoon of Tuesday, August 1, at Green Mountain Reservoir, which has seen its share of tragedies over the years. In a post about the drowning there of Jefte Flores, a sixteen-year-old Frisco, in August 2015, we noted that the reservoir is a well-known cliff-jumping site — and this activity carries with it inherent risks. Take the story of Clarke, a nineteen-year-old from Bayfield who drowned after leaping from Cascade waterfall in San Juan County, a modest drive from Durango in southwestern Colorado.

Haley Clarke, nineteen, lost her life jumping the Cascade Falls in southwestern Colorado last year. - FACEBOOK
Haley Clarke, nineteen, lost her life jumping the Cascade Falls in southwestern Colorado last year.
People come from near and far to "jump the falls," San Juan County Undersheriff Steve Lowrance told us afterward — and that's unfortunate, from his perspective. In his view, the Cascade falls attract far too many adventurers who don't think through the dangers involved or the possible permanent repercussions.

"For better or worse, San Juan County is known for things like falls jumping, ridge running, extreme skiing," he said — and as a result, "we have to do a lot of search-and-rescues, and we've definitely had fatalities. A lot of these folks, their ambition outweighs their talent, and they can quickly get in over their head, especially at this time of year, where we have a lot of rushing water in Cascade Creek and all the rivers in the county."

The Summit County Sheriff's Office describes the specifics of the latest fatal accident like so:

According to the SCSO, deputies were informed of a suspected drowning at 4:43 p.m. on the 1st, arriving at the scene of a popular diving rock fourteen minutes later. There, witnesses said a man had dived off the rock but didn't surface after entering the water. Others on the scene immediately began searching for him, without success, and sheriff's office personnel didn't have much luck that day, either. The recovery effort stretched out into the next day. Finally, at around 12:30 p.m. yesterday, August 2, the body was located via the use of sonar equipment at a depth of approximately seventy feet.

Identification of the victim is pending next-of-kin notification. In the meantime, Summit County Sheriff Jaime FitzSimons issued the following statement: "While many outdoor experiences offer excitement, they can also result in tragedy. I encourage the public to be safety-minded while enjoying the many recreational activities in Summit County."

By the way, the fifteen fatalities at Colorado water attractions this year don't include Eric Ashby, who vanished in the Arkansas River on June 28 while reportedly searching for a treasure said to have been hidden by New Mexico author Forrest Fenn. Human remains were found along the Arkansas on July 28, but they have not yet been identified.
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts