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The Regional Review | DEVELOPMENTS IN ORANGE, RIVERSIDE,
SAN BERNARDINO AND VENTURA COUNTIES

Model Boat Enthusiast Drowns at Lake Piru

September 07, 2000

PIRU — The skies were sunny and the winds calm at Lake Piru, when Eric Cruz decided to swim the short distance to his stalled radio-controlled model boat.

But the inexperienced swimmer struggled just short of the boat and panicked, witnesses said, pushing away his boogie board. Divers retrieved his body an hour later.

The 25-year-old Van Nuys resident had drowned only 10 feet from shore.

Cruz, whose body was found on the floor of the lake Tuesday afternoon, was the sixth person to drown there since 1994.

Douglas West, Lake Piru's parks and recreation services manager, said he has seen about a dozen drownings during his 23 years at the lake. Most victims are inexperienced swimmers who are not wearing life jackets and who overestimate their own abilities or swim in off-limits areas.

Sheriff's spokesman Eric Nishimoto said currents on the lake were strong Tuesday. After a 1997 drowning, park officials speculated that wind gusts and deep columns of chilly water on the lake, which is 70 to 160 feet deep depending on the time of year, can overtake swimmers quickly and overwhelm them.

"I know it can get rough out there," Nishimoto said.

Cruz was far from from the view of park rangers, in an area marked off-limits to swimming.

After a drowning, park officials meet to discuss the situation and determine what can be done to improve their response.

On Wednesday, they came to the conclusion that Cruz's drowning could have been prevented if he had worn a life jacket or other flotation device.

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