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Father of Good Samaritan who drowned trying to save a girl warns about runoff

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – As the weather warms up, run-off from melting snow at high elevation in the mountains will intensify in Utah creeks and rivers over the next few weeks. Last spring, six people died in swiftwater drownings as near-record run off raged in our waterways. That was the highest number of swiftwater fatalities in the state in more than a decade.

“It’s very hard to see someone drown and not do anything,” said Troy Thayne, who has become an advocate for safer rivers in Utah. His son acted on that impulse when he saw a four-year-old child and then her mother fall into the Provo River on Memorial Day in 2017.  Thayne is now dedicated to saving others from the grief his family still endures.

Troy and his 30-year-old son Sean were enjoying Bridal Veil Falls with their wives and extended family. The viewing area was packed and noisy because of the rushing water.

When the young girl and her mother went into the current, Troy ran ahead to try to throw something in the water.  He thought his son Sean was following him. “But, he was actually going in the water,” said Thayne.  “He was an excellent swimmer.”

Within seconds, the mother and child and Sean had been swept downriver. “You can’t keep up with them,” Troy said. “They’re going about 8 to 10 miles an hour.”

The bodies of London DeDios, her mother Brenda DeDios and Sean Thayne were found several miles away.

“It’s human nature to save a child,” Thayne said.

Since the death of his son, Thayne has dedicated thousands of hours researching swift water drowning.  He has started a nonprofit, saferrivers.org, dedicated to educating people about safe behavior around rivers and making viewing safer.

He has urged Utah County to put an emergency phone and throw rope near Bridal Veil Falls. He’s eager to pay for safety improvements through his non-profit. He said, the county told him they could not accept the liability for and any misuse of that equipment in an emergency and turned down his offer.

Thayne’s recommendation for groups with kids planning time near a river:

“Have a designated watcher for the children,” he said, someone who is not on their phone, dedicated strictly to watching the children.

Squad leader and former Commander of Salt Lake County Search and Rescue Allan Bergstrom agrees with that approach.

“Just be aware of what’s there,” he said. “Don’t go out by yourself.  Don’t go into the fast flowing water. Just be careful.”

If someone falls in the water, move downstream, reach with a stick or throw a rope if available.

“It would be impossible for me as a father not to do something if a child went into the water,” Bergstrom said. “But, we’ve got to be smart.”

The higher elevation run off is just getting started, so the streams don’t look very dangerous right now.  But, the current does not have to be deep to be dangerous.  The run off won’t be as raging as last year.  But, in the next few weeks the volume of Utah’s major creeks and rivers could double or triple, enough to sweep a grown man off his feet.

“Emotionally, as a human, you want to jump in and save somebody,” said Bergstrom.  “You’ve got to take just a second and look and say, ‘What’s the smartest way to help? Without becoming another victim.’”

 

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