Jessica Cejnar Andrews / Thursday, Dec. 2, 2021 @ 4:57 p.m. / Emergencies
DN Search & Rescue Volunteers May Push For Stronger Measures to Deter People From Crescent City Jetty
John Williams was first on the jetty after a wave swept Gary Charlesworth and Julie Limper onto the rocks and into the water.
Williams, assistant coordinator with Del Norte County Search and Rescue, had been playing disc golf near there and was ready to return home on Nov. 7 when he heard the Chico couple was in trouble. Williams drove home, got his truck and his rescue gear and made it back to the jetty in about 15 minutes.
“If you look at the video, someone was laying on the jetty right above them, that was me,” Williams told the Wild Rivers Outpost on Monday, referring to a bystander’s video of the incident. “I was the first on the jetty to go right to (them) and figure out the safest way back to shore. I was the one that got the raft out there because they needed that raft — they could not go up a ladder to get back out because they were both injured. And my friend and former coordinator … he was one of the people I was talking to. He was relying on me to be the eyes on the situation.”
Williams was one of three DNSAR personnel on the jetty. Five others were on scene, he said. Two Crescent City firefighters were also staged by the second danger sign doing relay work for the team on the jetty, Williams said.
The Nov. 7 rescue was the second of two incidents involving the jetty that DNSAR responded to in three months.
On Sept. 28, the Del Norte County Sheriff’s Office’s boating unit retrieved 43-year-old Reuben Cha, of Los Angeles, from the water between the jetty and the B Street Pier. Though deputies had performed CPR on him, Cha was pronounced dead in an ambulance at the Crescent City Harbor, according to Del Norte County Sheriff Randy Waltz.
There were conflicting reports of whether Cha had been on the jetty or had walked into the water from the beach, Waltz told the Outpost on Oct. 6.
Saying one incident a year is too many, John Williams and his wife, DNSAR secretary, Kathy Williams, said they and their colleagues are discussing a plan to urge the Crescent City Council to place better warning signs in the area.
Both said they’d like to coordinate some legislation between the city and county about closing the jetty during the winter months or at high tide or any time water is on the jetty. They also pointed out that though it’s in the Crescent City Police Department’s jurisdiction, the jetty is owned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
A sign with historical information listing the number of fatalities and injuries from people being swept off the jetty might be the next best thing, Kathy Williams said.
“Even if we’re not allowed to make citations, at least if the information was there, people from out of town could say, ‘Oh wow, maybe I shouldn’t walk out there,’” she said. “I’m sure there’s got to be records that show all that information.”
According to John Williams, prior to Cha’s death in September the last fatality that occurred when someone was swept from the jetty was in 2010. But there have been several rescues since then, he said.
There had been danger signs at the jetty, but one that was about 50 yards from the gate was damaged about two years ago and is gone, John Williams said. The frame itself is bent, he said.
According to Crescent City Police Chief Richard Griffin, the city is trying to work with Army Corps of Engineers to get new signs put on the jetty. However, he said, there’s not much his department can do to ensure people don’t venture past the gate since it can’t enforce trespassing because the jetty doesn’t belong to the city.
“If (the Army Corps) came to me and said, ‘We don’t want anybody here at all,’ that’s perfect,” Griffin told the Outpost, adding that two of his officers responded to the Nov. 7 jetty rescue. “My officers have a standing order not to go out there. They’re not trained for rescue at all. We don’t have the proper equipment. We’d be putting another victim in the water for Search and Rescue to get out.”
Responding to a call at the jetty is also a high risk situation for Crescent Fire and Rescue, according to Chief Bill Gillespie. Noting that eight firefighters responded in a duty vehicle, a rescue vehicle and a fire engine on Nov. 7, Gillespie said his own personnel can get washed off the jetty while trying to make a rescue.
“The thing a lot of people don’t realize is the force of the water and how heavy it is when it comes down on top of you out there,” he said.
Plus, an emergency response to someone getting in trouble on the jetty could result in delays to other calls, though that didn’t happen on Nov. 7, Gillespie said.
Other responding agencies included Crescent City Fire and Rescue, the Del Norte County Sheriff’s Office, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Del Norte Ambulance and the Yurok Tribal Department of Public Safety.
John Williams, noting there was an over-8-foot king tide on Nov. 7, said he was clipped onto a safety line DNSAR maintains on the jetty. He was dealing with the exact same conditions as the people he was there to rescue. If it wasn’t for his training or the safety line, Williams said, a wave would have knocked him off the jetty too.
Both John and Kathy Williams think a letter the Outpost printed on from Charlesworth on Monday is a great testimonial to why the jetty should be off limits.
In his letter, Charlesworth described the incident, thanked his rescuers and said he sustained nine broken ribs and a broken shoulder blade while Limper suffered a fractured vertebrae and needed stitches and staples on both knees.
John Williams pointed out that the couple's walk onto the jetty could have been fatal.
“Where they were washed off, it was about an 8 foot drop onto nothing but rocks,” he said. “They were extremely fortunate to live with only the injuries they had.”