Two teens found dead after rafting trip

February 20, 2011 7:11:15 PM PST
Contra Costa authorities confirmed Sunday that they found the bodies of two teenagers who had taken off down Walnut Creek during Saturday's storm.

On Sunday, the remains of their inflatable raft along with the bodies of both teens were discovered in Concord. The boys were identified as 16-year-old Matthew Miller and 17-year-old Gavin Powell. The boys' parents had no idea the boys had planned the rafting trip. Considering Saturday's weather, one can only imagine how dangerous the waters were.

The two boys began their journey at a rain-swollen section of creek behind Murwood Elementary School. There are signs there warning against going in the dangerous waters, but the teens told their friends they were going rafting. They left around 2 p.m. and two hours later, they called a friend to meet them upstream.

They were never seen alive again.

"The parents didn't find out about this until later on when their son's not answering the cell phone, and they start checking around and realize that some of the friends say, 'Hey, we think they went rafting in the creek," explained Lt. Eric Navarro with the Contra Costa Sherriff's Department.

Rescue teams searched from the sky and on the ground. Their search spanned more than 10 miles over the course of a treacherous creek. Late Sunday morning, about four miles away from where the pair started, crews found a piece of blue plastic that turned out to be the boys' raft.

Later in the afternoon, miles north in unincorporated Contra Costa County, the first boy's body was found. Not long after that, the second body was found not far from where rescue workers had set up their command center.

"It was very treacherous, especially at the morning hours when we got in. The water was too high, too fast-moving. It was too dark, low visibility. We certainly couldn't risk our search and rescue people and also some of the officers to go in the water," Navarro said.

The boys were both students at Walnut Creek's Las Lomas High, where grief counselors were on hand Sunday afternoon to talk to classmates. Neighbors who live along the creek are all too familiar with this tragedy. After a teenager was killed in the same stretch of creek about a decade ago, they lobbied to have the danger signs painted. Now they say, maybe something more needs to be done.

"A lot of times, they start in Walnut Creek, but then they end up getting caught right here and this is where the undertow is so bad," Darlene Pitney told ABC7.

"As soon as we hear the helicopter overhead, I said to my husband, 'Someone's in the canal.' We just knew immediately," Linda Meneken of Concord recalled.

One of the boys lived in the city of Walnut Creek. The other lived just outside the city in an unincorporated area. Both of their parents reported each of them missing early Sunday morning just after midnight, after they spoke to the friend and realized their sons had made the decision to go rafting Saturday.

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