MORGAN HILL, Calif. (KTVU staff) - A 35-year-old father who took his two children regularly to swim and pet horses in Morgan Hill drowned over the weekend while trying to save his son and daughter and four other children who got swept away in a swift undercurrent, his friends and relatives said.
Saul Garcia of San Jose "showed no fear going into the water" by jumping into the water and saving all six lives before he drowned, according to a GoFundMe post established by Juan Valdiva. Garcia's wife and brother were too distraught to speak in detail, but described Garcia, a union electrician, as a strong and determined man, and a father who jumped into a swift-moving pond with his clothes and shoes on to save the kids.
He wasn't the only one to have jumped in though. A bunch of friends and family were at the popular swimming hole, a former quarry near Coyote Creek and a horse ranch on Ogier Avenue between Highway 101 and Old Monterey Road. Melissa Balderas told KTVU that for years, it's been a popular swimming spot for locals. Her two sons, ages 15 and 10, were swimming that day and saw Saul's young son, who is about 5 years ago, get swept away. She was up at the ranch, making hot dogs, in anticipation of everyone's return for lunch.
Tito Salas and his roommate Luis Ruiz were also nearby, walking their horses on the trail nearby. They heard screams for help and they also rushed in the water with their boots and jeans as they had been out with their horses. So did a mother whose children were also part of the large group.
Garcia waded out the furthest as it was his son who was struggling the most, Salas said. But all the adults and the children were having trouble because of the steep dropoff and the swift water. At one point, Salas said, it was like a domino effect of one adult going in the water after another to try and rescue the last person who went in to help.
Salas managed to secure himself to a bank with a tree branch. And at one point, Garcia begged him to save him. "But I had to make a choice," Salas toldl KTVU. "And I decided to save the child. I keep asking myself now what I could have done differently."
Garcia's two children, his son and daughter, made it back to shore, as did four other children.
But Garcia, who was apparently a strong swimmer but wearing ranching clothes, never made it back.
His body was found Sunday evening in 15 feet of water. Santa Clara County Sheriff's Sgt. Rich Glennon added that the father "gave up his life" and as "noble as an endeavor as that was, it's a complete tragedy."
Earlier this month, Roni Avila of San Francisco died in the Sacramento River Delta. His kayak flipped over and he carried his daughter, Sophie, 5, on his shoulders until a jet skiier swooped by to rescue her. But he was not saved and drowned during what was supposed to be a happy family vacation.
Balderas told KTVU said her friend's death has made her more cautious. "I don't think we'll go back any time soon, if at all," she said. "We need to be cautious of the water. Even if it looks safe. It can be dangerous."