law enforcement

Contra Costa County Deputy Sheriff Drowns Trying to Save Friend in Lake Tahoe

A Northern California sheriff's deputy died Thursday while saving a friend in Lake Tahoe who had jumped into the water to save a friend, authorities said.

Deputy Sheriff Carlos Francies, 30, of Sacramento died Thursday after he jumped into deep lake water about 3 p.m. on a day with strong gusty winds. He was not wearing a life jacket, South Lake Tahoe police said. And a high wind warning for Lake Tahoe had been issued, with forecasts of winds gusting to 40mph. 

The friend he went to help survived.

The agency is "devastated by the death," Contra Costa County Sheriff's spokesman Jimmy Lee said at a Friday news conference. He added that the department sends its "deepest condolences" to Francies' friends, family and colleagues. "We've lost one of our family members."

As South Lake Tahoe Police Lt. Brian Williams explained it, Francies was visiting South Lake Tahoe with family and friends, spending the afternoon on El Dorado Beach near the intersection of US Highway 50 and Lakeview Avenue.

Francies and his girlfriend, his sister and another male friend had rented paddles and kayaks near the beach.  Francies and his girlfriend were on the paddle boards, while his sister and the other man were on kayaks, Williams said. 

All four were in the lake, more than a hundred yards off shore, in water that was about 15 feet deep.  Francies’ sister was the only one of the four who had donned a life jacket, Williams said.

Francies saw his sister fall off of her kayak. His friend jumped off his own kayak to help her.

While doing so, the deputy's own kayak drifted off, Williams said. And he tried to retrieve it by swimming while clutching a paddle.

After helping Francies' sister back aboard her kayak, the man began swimming to retrieve his own kayak, Williams said.  Because he swam while still holding his paddle, Williams said it appeared to Francies from a distance that his friend needed help.

Francies jumped into the water and began swimming toward his friend.  Almost immediately, Francies began to falter and get into trouble himself, Williams said.

Williams said that the off-duty deputy and former Sacramento State University football player was struggling to stay on the surface and called to his girlfriend, who is a registered nurse, to toss him the life jacket from her paddle board.

She tried.

Sacramento State University
Carlos Francies played football for Sacramento State in 2005.

But she had to throw the jacket against strong wind, Williams said.  The life jacket fell far short her boyfriend.  She then jumped into the water to get the life jacket and bring it toward Francies.  It was then that she saw her boyfriend start to sink. 

Meanwhile Francies’ sister had fallen once again into the lake while the rescue attempts were being concentrated on her brother, Williams said.

She was able to get onto her kayak but was struggling to get back to shore against the strong wind.  Someone on a motorized boat was able to assist her safely back to shore.

Lee said that Francies was hired in December 2011 and had last been working at the Martinez detention facility. He had also worked in custody services and court security. He was "well liked" and "hard working," Lee said.

Francies' colleague stressed the actions that the deputy took to help his pal.

Sgt. Shawn Welch, president of deputies sheriff's association, called what Francies did a "heroic" act saying Francies was an "outstanding person and professional."

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