© 2024 KVPR | Valley Public Radio - White Ash Broadcasting, Inc. :: 89.3 Fresno / 89.1 Bakersfield
89.3 Fresno | 89.1 Bakersfield
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Merced teen found dead in Lake Yosemite amid July Fourth celebration

Red and blue police siren.
Scott Rodgerson
Red and blue police siren.

MERCED, Calif. — A 16-year-old Merced boy who was celebrating July Fourth with his family at Lake Yosemite near Merced has died in a suspected drowning.

The teen was identified as Brandon Mendez, according to a GoFundMe account established by his cousin, Hector Gallegos, to help pay for funeral expenses.

“Brandon was such an amazing person and had a bright future,” Gallegos wrote in a message on the fund-raising site. “He was always someone who always had a smile on him. Sadly, his time on this earth was taken abruptly.”

Gallegos said Brandon was the oldest of three siblings and that the teen’s parents were taking time from their work to make funeral arrangements. Gallegos did not immediately return messages from the CVJC seeking additional information.

Family members alerted Merced County Sheriff’s deputies at 4:17 p.m. Tuesday that the teen was missing, according to Deputy Alexandra Britton. They said the teen last was seen swimming near the pier of the man-made reservoir.

Deputies searched the area but were unable to find him. The Sheriff's Dive Team was called to the lake and, after searching for several hours, found the teen unresponsive. Britton said his time of death was reported as 9:35 p.m.

The teen's cause of death remained under investigation Wednesday pending autopsy results.

Lake Yosemite, located east of Merced near the UC Merced campus, is an irrigation reservoir managed by the Merced Irrigation District. Recreation on the lake and its nearby park land is managed by Merced County.

Britton said the area was packed with visitors on the Independence Day holiday. Many celebrants dipped into the lake to cool off from the day’s highs in the 90s.

Swimming at the lake is permitted but visitors do so at their own risk, Britton said, as no lifeguard is on duty. Diving from the pier is prohibited.

Britton, who is a member of the dive team, said the lake's water is typically cold and murky. Last year, two men drowned at the lake. "There are many factors that play into how people drown out there," Britton said.

This story was reported and edited by the Central Valley Journalism Collaborative, cvlocaljournalism.org, a nonprofit newsroom based in Merced, CA.