Toddler dies after falling into Placer County canal

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
-A +A
An 18-month-old boy died today after falling into a canal near Colfax while walking with his stepmother. The boy - identified by the Placer County Sheriff's Office as Zachary Mather of Weimar - was found two hours after falling in at 9:30 a.m. Zachary was discovered at a debris grate along the Hidden Valley Canal, off Peaceful Valley Road in Weimar. Zachary's stepmother, who was not identified, told deputies that she and her stepson were walking alongside the canal in an area that was slippery and icy when both fell in. The stepmother was able to get out of the canal and neighbors who heard her yelling soon joined in the search. "It looks to be a tragic accident," sheriff's spokeswoman Dena Erwin said. Speaking outside Sutter Auburn Faith Hospital, where the boy had been taken after a sheriff's dive team member pulled him out of the water at about 11:45 a.m., Erwin said Zachary had been pronounced dead shortly after arriving at the North Auburn medical facility. While early signs point to the death being accidental, an investigation had already started to determine the circumstances surrounding how the boy ended up in the water, Erwin said. Lt. Ron Ashford of the sheriff’s office said the Pacific Gas & Electric canal is running swift and cold at this time of year, with little chance to get out for victims who fall in. The canal is several feet deep and about 10-12 feet wide, he said. The water depth in the canal had been lowered by about three feet by PG&E by the time the boy was taken out of the water at the grate, about a half-mile from where he went in, Ashford said. First aid was attempted after the boy was removed from the water. Ashford said that he didn’t know if Zachary was showing signs of still being alive at that point. The rural, residential area is located off Placer Hills Road near the Weimar Crossroads exit from Interstate 80. Family members rushed to the hospital on a day before a holiday that normally would have been filled with celebration and thankfulness. The family was contacted through a third party and declined to talk with gathered media who had been kept from entering the building by facility security. The death is the sixth in an Auburn-area canal since January 2009. The bodies of the other five canal victims – all adult men – were found in the Wise Canal or Wise Forebay. After the fifth death in the Auburn area, PG&E put up fencing to prevent people from slipping in along that section of canal.