SAN JOAQUIN COUNTY, Calif. — A Northern California man was sucked to his death under by an irrigation pipe while on the Delta. CBS Sacramento reports that it’s a freak accident that has left his family questioning how it all happened.
"Now a wonderful man is dead, he apparently got caught in an irrigation pipe running water out of the Delta," said Douglas Saeltzer, the family’s attorney.
Carlos Tovar was untangling a ski line when he was sucked under in the Sacramento River. His friends tried desperately to pull him back on board.
"They couldn’t free Carlos and he drowned right before their eyes despite their efforts," Saeltzer said.
Investigators say it appears the man was held under by a pipe that juts out of the levee and into the delta. It’s used to pump water to crops.
"It’s the first one that I’ve personally heard of," said Sgt. Darren Epperson, never hearing of any deaths this way.
He said pipes like these are scattered throughout the Delta. It’s one of the many dangers boaters can encounter.
"You can see it’s an oddball man-made shape going up at an angle on the banks, so you know that’s a pipe and it doesn’t matter if the pipe is pushing water out or pulling it in," Epperson said. "It’s a danger to you, either way, so you just need to stay away from it."
The attorney doesn’t know who the pipe belongs to, but people along the delta say they’re often owned by individual farmers.
"Right now we have more questions than answers," the attorney said.
The Tovars can’t understand why there’s no protection around the pipes.
"The safeguards are for the system, not necessarily to stop people from going in, the only thing they have on the front of them is a grate or a crossbar," Epperson explained.
The attorney added that the family will be doing an independent investigation.
"They’re going through a family’s worst nightmare and they don’t want other families to go through what they’re going through," Saeltzer said. "We have a responsibility to make sure that water is being pulled out of the Delta safely and responsibly."
And with thousands more expected on the waterways this week, deputies say boaters need to be aware of all the underlying dangers.
"It’s not implausible to think about. If you are in the water and you’re unfortunate enough to be right by the section of that and you can easily get pulled up to it or trapped," Epperson said.