Daniel Seidler, 42, and Jordan Halliday jumped into the heart of the Kern River from a river bank in Hart Park Sunday and were swept downstream.

Siedler whooped as the speeding current carried him past a sheltered cove in a rush.

But the pair had scoped the shore, so they were able to catch an eddy just around the river bend and pull themselves back to shore, dripping and exhilarated.

And a little bit scared.

“I’ve been going in the river since ’89,” Seidler said. “It’s never been like this.”

That's something that public safety officials and the families of those who have died in the river already know and are hoping to communicate to people like Seidler and Halliday.

Six people have died so far this year on the Kern River. Two of those deaths have happened near Hart Park. And another person is missing from the park itself.

Seidler has been living in Kentucky for three years and didn’t know how much power the more than 5,000 cubic feet per second flow carried.

“I’m a strong swimmer. But when I got out there I realized, no matter how good a swimmer I am, I have absolutely no power,” he said.

He and Halliday tried one more adventure.

They joined a group of men and young teens who were taking turns climbing a tree overhanging the river and jumping into a calmer stretch of the Kern.

Halliday flipped off.

Siedler soared off.

Then they splashed back to the shore.

And that was enough.

Siedler said his dive took him to the edge of the current and he felt it begin to take him again.

The pair packed up, joined friends and family and headed out.

All up and down the river near Hart Park, in coves and shallows, children, parents and families played on as the heat soared into the triple digits.

SIGNS

For Nneka Odeluga, the message of the river’s dangers can’t be sent far enough or shouted loud enough.

In July 2015, her son Nnanedu Odeluga, 15, jumped into the Kern River at an area called Three Falls and was overcome and drowned.

For the past six months, with the help of family friend Kent Varvel, she and her husband, Ndukwe Odeluga, have been trying to work out a deal with the U.S. Forest Service to post warning signs at critical locations along the Kern River.

She’d love to see signs that told visitors that no swimming was allowed.

But there is movement to get signs up that warn people about the swift water and the dangers of the river.

“The wording isn’t exactly what we wanted it say,” she said.

But they have to have Forest Service blessing and have to coordinate their efforts with Forest Service regulations.

She and her husband have offered to pay for the signs. And other groups, including search and rescue professionals, have offered to help as best they can to get them in place.

Now all they're waiting for is approval to get the signs up.

And that is only the first step, Varvel said.

“I am in favor of closing the river, where it is most dangerous. I think that’s the right thing to do,” he said. “Post those locations with no swimming and extremely dangerous river signs.”

In the meantime, Nneka Odeluga is doing what she can.

On the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend she was out at the Three Falls site with her own handcrafted sign.

“We did have some good conversations with people that weekend,” she said.

Some even turned around and left before getting in the river.

Ultimately, she said, its about saving lives.

“We hope that we don’t keep having the number of fatalities we have,” Odeluga said.

SAFE

Father’s Day weekend passed this year without tragedy on the Kern River, said Bakersfield Fire Department and Kern County Sheriff’s Office search and rescue coordinators.

But Monday morning, Bakersfield Fire Chief Doug Greener issued a press release urging the public to stay out of the Kern River.

A flyer photo with the release stamped a red circle with a slash over the river’s name and urged residents to “Stay dry, don’t die!”

Greener said he’s concerned about locals and visitors who get into the river but also his firefighters, who have to put their lives at risk to save people who have been stranded in the water.

“The Bakersfield Fire Department has responded numerous times to water-related rescues within the past four weeks, with the majority of those incidents involving the Kern River," Greener wrote in the press release.

"In fact, this has been a record-setting deployment and rescue year for the BFD Swift Water Rescue Team, and the season is just beginning, with our first sustained heat wave now in progress."

Last week, rescue crews pulled a man’s body out of the river 1.5 miles downstream of Keyesville near the Isabella Lake dam.

The unidentified man makes the sixth person to die on the Kern River in Kern County and portions of Tulare County this year.

One more person has been missing from the river near Hart Park since June 3.

James Burger can be reached at 661‑395-7415. Follow him on Twitter: @KernQuirks.

(1) comment

CTurk3

What happen to personal responsibility? If a person is stupid enough to jump into the Kern River do you really think a "sign" is going to stop that person?

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