San Jose girl’s drowning raises concerns over water safety ahead of summer

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By Yosi Yahoudai
Founder and Managing Partner

SAN JOSE, Calif. – A South Bay parent is mourning the loss of her child, and sounding an alarm about the dangers of a popular swimming spot.

Mari Gonzalez sits in her East San Jose apartment and clutches her daughter’s favorite teddy bear, oversized and dressed in a pink vest, all while looking at multiple pictures of the girl on the living room wall. Days from now, she’ll bury her only child, after an accidental death on Memorial Day.

“I feel so bad that…can’t see my daughter. Like I really feel so bad,” she said through her boyfriend, Carlos Salinas, who acted as an interpreter.

Mari said 11-year-old Dana Gonzalez was a tall, energetic, and athletic fifth grader.

She died May 27 while swimming in the Alameda Creek, a 45-mile-long waterway in Alameda County, about 20 miles from the family’s second-floor apartment.

“Ever since COVID happened, people come out here to get out of their homes to swim. It’s a popular place ever since,” said Suzanne Fuentez, a Fremont resident who lives across the street from the creek, near Niles Canyon Road and Mission Boulevard.

Fencing is up along the creek, and there are numerous “no swimming” and “warning” signs posted.

“Heartbreaking. I’m a father, and you know, it breaks your heart,” said Sgt. Roberto Morales, a spokesman for the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office. “The signs are posted for a reason. There’s a lot of water dangers in the creek.”

Mari said a friend invited her and her daughter to come to Vallejo Mill Historic Park, which the creek runs through, for the holiday weekend. She said she had never been there before and saw people swimming in the creek. She said she had no idea it was illegal and dangerous.

“She was playing and swimming with some friends. And (then) she goes into the water, and she couldn’t come up (for air),” said Mari, her eyes filling with tears. “A lot of people tried to help but they couldn’t (get her out).”

Dana got stuck underwater in an intake valve. Cell phone video provided by Carlos Salinas showed how strong the suction is at the point where the girl drowned. Witnesses said it took five men 11 minutes to pull the girl up. But Dana was pronounced dead a short time later at a nearby hospital.

“I don’t think people understand. It looks calm, but there are pulls (under the water) and it took a life,” said Fuentez.

A FOX 2 crew saw a family with young children squeeze past the fencing, Thursday, and go to the water’s edge. They were warned of the dangers and shortly thereafter, left, possibly preventing another tragedy.

But for Mari Gonzalez, there is no reprieve from the lifelong pain of losing her only child.

Jesse Gary is a reporter based in the station’s South Bay bureau. Follow him on Instagram, @jessegontv

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About the Author
Yosi Yahoudai is a founder and the managing partner of J&Y. His practice is comprised primarily of cases involving automobile and motorcycle accidents, but he also represents people in premises liability lawsuits, including suits alleging dangerous conditions of public property, third-party criminal conduct, and intentional torts. He also has expertise in cases involving product defects, dog bites, elder abuse, and sexual assault. He earned his Bachelor of Arts from the University of California and is admitted to practice in all California State Courts, and the United States District Court for the Southern District of California. If you have any questions about this article, you can contact Yosi by clicking here.