Pay for rescue? American River daredevil’s wild ride sparks questions

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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A man swept downstream at the confluence and rescued from a rock by a California Highway Patrol helicopter has an unforgettable story to tell his buddies. But a witness who says he tried to convince the man not to go in the water seconds before his wild ride downstream questions why he doesn’t have a hefty rescue bill as well. Wesley Shira, 26, went into the strong, cold current of the American River Sunday at the American River confluence and lived to tell about it. Shira was one of the hundreds of people venturing onto the rocky shore at the confluence Sunday afternoon on one of the first warm days of the spring. A Rocklin resident, with no current fixed address, Shira told a State Parks ranger after being taken to a hospital that he had walked down to the river with two friends and had planned a short swim that would take him downstream to a rock bar. Jim Ferris, an Auburn State Recreation Area Canyon Keepers volunteer, said Shira was heard making a wager with his friends about going in. Before his near-deadly dip, Shira went as far as grabbing one of the orange, children’s life vests State Parks provides onshore for youngsters. “I warned him not to get caught in the current but he deliberately slipped in,” Ferris said. Sensing the man was going to end up in trouble or dead, another witness shot off about a dozen photos of Shira as he approached the river and then waded in. Supervising Ranger Scott Liske said Shira showed an extreme lack of judgment in going into snowmelt with a temperature in the low 50s but the life vest around his neck probably saved him. Shira entered the water between 3:45 p.m. and 4 p.m. and was rescued at 4:35 p.m. “He said the cold water took his energy,” Liske said. “Everyone should use this as a warning. Through at least the end of June, rivers are going to be treacherous and cold.” Shira’s friends followed him along the shoreline as he bobbed in the water. The current took him about a third of a mile downstream, from the North Fork Bridge on Old Foresthill Road past the Highway 49 and Mountain Quarries Railroad Bridge, and onto the rock in the river, near a sandy beach often frequented by nude sunbathers on warm days. Shira was able to scramble onto the rock above the waterline and rescue workers who arrived at the confluence in two sheriff’s vehicles, a fire truck and a helicopter were soon attempting to find a way to save the man’s life. The CHP chopper was able to eventually move in low enough for an officer to lift Shira up and in. He was taken to a nearby hospital suffering from exposure. Liske said Shira told him he had gone in to body surf but mentioned nothing about a wager. Ferris, who is also an Auburn Recreation District director, said that there should be a way to charge people for restitution when they deliberately ignore warning signs and then have to use up government resources to be rescued. Liske said State Parks doesn’t charge people restitution for being rescued. Because State Parks is a state agency, it would take legislation to bring in charges for rescues like Shira’s, he said.