Authorities look into cause of death of rafter on North Fork American River run

Rohnert Park man apparently died after helping two struggling rafters in water
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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AUBURN CA - A Rohnert Park man has died while whitewater rafting on the North Fork of the American River near Colfax and authorities are looking into the possibility of a fatal heart attack. The man was identified by the Placer County Sheriff?s Office as Stan Decker, 59, of Rohnert Park. Decker died Saturday afternoon, authorities said. The Associated Press initially reported that Decker drowned after apparently trying to help two rafters who were struggling with some fast-moving rapids. But State Parks Supervising Ranger Scott Liske of the Auburn State Recreation Area said Monday that an ashen-faced Decker was reported by onlookers to have collapsed while in ankle-deep water after a particularly frenetic ride both in and out of the churning whitewater. Liske later said that the report of the drowning has been bolstered by confirmation that Decker was actually found floating face-down in the water. Liske said that authorities have discounted the first version and verified the report that Decker had been pulled out floating and unconscious. Decker was part of a commercial rafting trip by Auburn?s Whitewater Excitement outfitters that left from the Mineral Bar put-in near the Iowa Hill Bridge at 12:15 p.m. Saturday, Liske said. At least two boats and a kayaking outrider set out and the boat Decker was in ended up pitching four occupants out at Slaughter?s Sluice, about half a mile downstream, Liske said. Decker was one of the rafters who went in after the craft hit something in the water. He and another occupant were able to get back into the inflatable rubber raft and try to help pull the other two ? a man and a woman ? back in, Liske said. ?They (the two in the water) may have been panicking or not helping as much as they could so they went downstream for a ways,? Liske said. Decker was pulled out of the boat at Chamberlain Falls, about a third of a mile farther downstream, as he continued to try to help pull the two people back into the raft, Liske said. After Decker was pulled to shore, an EMT paramedic in another raft arrived a few moments afterward and started CPR. The CPR continued as he was put in a raft and ferried another two miles downstream. A paramedic was lowered down to river level to further treat Decker. Pronounced dead at the scene, his body was flown to meet a Placer County Sheriff?s Office coroner?s unit. Nate Rangel, a Coloma outfitter and spokesperson for rafting organization California Outdoors, said that there were still questions regarding the cause of death that were to probably be answered after an autopsy. ?I?ve talked to a number of people on the trip and it?s a tragedy whenever anything like this happens,? Rangel said. ?There are still questions about contributing factors, including whether he had a heart attack or drowned. Fortunately, this is a freakish type of event. In our world, it doesn?t happen very often.? Undammed, the North Fork run Decker was on is recommended for experienced rafters only because the stretch from the Colfax-Iowa Hill Bridge put-in near Colfax to the Ponderosa Bridge take out approximately 9 miles downstream combines strong water flows, rapids and dangerous rocks. Rangel said that rafting Saturday on the North Fork promised great conditions for rafters who were familiar with the nuances of the river. ?Water levels are great ? not too high or low,? Rangel said. ?In terms of this specific event, from all I?ve heard, everything that could be done was done. All protocols were followed.? Rangel added that the North Fork is a definite Class 4 run, which requires experience and the proper equipment. ?Any outdoor recreation carries some element of risk,? Rangel said. ?It?s unfortunate that this happened. They followed protocol to the letter and had this person out of water quickly. In 24 hours, we will know a lot better what happened.? Updated to reflect new information on the circumstances provided after deadline by State Parks.