School is now out, and the weather is turning warm, and it’s only a matter of time before kids start heading out to the Stanislaus River to float, to play, to swim, and to have the kind of summer fun that Central Valley kids do when there isn’t anything else going on.
But I have a much better idea for those who are interested.
How about you do anything but go near the Stanislaus River for the foreseeable future.
Ride a bike. Watch Netflix. Pick up a book.
Because as much as I enjoy my job, writing about high school kids that underestimate the power of Mother Nature and end up drowning because they didn’t realize how fast and how cold the water is isn’t something that I’m looking forward to doing anytime soon.
And no, I am not being alarmist.
I understand how alluring the Stanislaus River can be in the middle of a heat wave.
During the summer going into my senior year there wasn’t a single day that I didn’t go with friends out to McHenry Recreation Area and go off of the rope swing or float through the park.
But on a drive out there the other morning, I was blown away at the amount of water moving through that channel – which, even when it’s down, still has enough force to trap somebody against something catch them in a situation they didn’t expect to find themselves in.
Right now, it’s pretty much a death sentence waiting to happen.
In fact, there are calls in Stanislaus County for the Sheriff to actually close the Stanislaus River to all recreational usage until the massive Sierra snowpack flows through later this summer to prevent any additional tragedies from occurring. One man drowned less than two weeks ago, and his body still hasn’t been discovered.
Just ask anybody whose job requires them to monitor the flows on the river, or are tasked with saving the people who get themselves into foolish trouble by being unprepared for the elements, whether they think that it’s safe to go anywhere near that river at the current moment.
Some wouldn’t mind if it were closed because then they wouldn’t have to risk their own lives to rescue people who are in trouble, or search for the bodies of those who weren’t lucky enough to survive extended exposure to 50-degree water flowing over submerged obstacles primed for pinning people and taking away any fighting chance at survival.
Really. Just don’t. Find a pool somewhere if you feel the need to cool off for at least the next month – and maybe even longer than that.
Nobody wants to print the name of somebody with a bright, promising future who thought that they were invincible and the laws of nature didn’t apply to them.
They do. And they don’t discriminate.
A life destroyed?
So, by now there’s a good chance that everybody in Manteca has heard about the man who allegedly followed a woman through Wal-Mart and gave her the impression that he was going to try and take her as part of a human trafficking ring.
It was shared thousands of times on Facebook, and started a nasty back-and-forth between people who praised the woman for being alert to her surroundings, and those who trashed her for posting the picture of a man that it appears, now, wasn’t doing anything wrong.
For those that didn’t see it, a photograph of a man standing at the checkout stands in the Manteca Wal-Mart – glaring at the person taking the picture – went viral with a story about how he had followed the woman through the store and sufficiently creeped her out enough to get her to alert the store as to what was happening.
The rest of the story is somewhat hard to follow, but it involved her being nearly ran off the road supposedly by the same man once she left the store, and then she reported everything to the Manteca Police the following day.
After she posted on Facebook.
Anyway – eventually the man in the picture learns from friends about the allegations floating around on the internet, and drives to the Manteca Police Department to try and clear his name.
The story also alleged that he had done something similar in Modesto to a woman at the Vintage Faire Mall, this time actually chasing her to her car in the parking lot.
So, when he was talking to investigators, he supplied corroborating evidence that he was never at the Vintage Faire Mall when this took place, and surveillance footage already obtained by Manteca Police has given his story about being at Wal-Mart with his wife, shopping, appears to checkout.
According to Manteca Police Sergeant Mike Aguilar, there is still more tape that needs to be viewed to get a concrete understanding of what happened, and any additional information that people are willing to provide on the matter will be investigated as well.
But, considering that people on Facebook were advocating for harm to come the way of this man – threats of actual physical violence – and it turns out that he may not have had any sinister motive altogether is another scary element to the story.
We live in a digital age. And for better or worse, we live in an age when people who sit behind a keyboard – myself included – are able to cherry pick the information that they consume, and craft a narrative that is unique to our particular worldview.
But in situations like this, where what could amount to be a simple misunderstanding ends up yielding actual threats because the police weren’t immediately notified and allowed to perform their due diligence, it becomes an even bigger issue.
What disturbed me about this was that even after the Manteca Police issued a statement intended to offer clarity once the man voluntarily came into the police department, some commenters continued the line of amateur sleuthing to allege that he only did so to throw the police off of his trail – or that the “wife” he claimed to be shopping with could end up being one of his victims working a cover to allow him to operate undetected.
I don’t know if it’s one too many episodes of Law and Order, but typically people don’t go to the police when they’re guilty and open themselves up to questions from people trained at finding out the truth.
I feel terrible for the woman who felt scared enough to post this on Facebook because these people do exist in the world. But I feel even more terrible for a man that, as it now appears, was in the wrong place at the wrong time and could have ended up being physically hurt – or worse – because of this matter.
The moral of the story? Call the police the next time something like this happens. Right away. If you don’t know the number, it’s either 911 on your phone, or 209.239.8401. They get paid to determine whether there is validity to these things.
We’re better off not speculating when people’s lives – their reputations, and those of their families – are literally on the line.
To contact reporter Jason Campbell email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 209.249.3544.