Teen dies after leap into water at Whatcom Falls Park

Parks employee tried to rescue Daniel Guerrero: 'I just wish it could've ended differently'

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDMay 7, 2013 

BELLINGHAM - A Squalicum High School student has died after being swept under a swift current in Whatcom Falls Park.

Daniel Santiago Guerrero, 16, and several other teens jumped into the churning water, beneath a small waterfall north of the main playground of the popular park, at dusk Monday, May 6, according to police.

Six friends waited for him to surface. But he never came up. They called 911 at 8:46 p.m.

About that time, Joe Lalonde - a city parks employee and volunteer photographer for the Bellingham Fire Department - sat down to dinner with his wife, Cristina, at their home across the street. Then his fire department pager went off. He grabbed a tree-climbing rope, threw on a bright yellow fire department vest and ran out the door.

One of Guerrero's friends helped Lalonde to find the spot, just downstream from a 3-foot-tall cascade near the fish hatchery. A policeman shined a flashlight into the water. Some of the girls said they saw something, deep down, in the center of the swimming hole.

Lalonde ran into the water, slipping over rocks, in such a rush he didn't throw aside his cell phone.

The current was strong. Lalonde was tired. And under the shade of the thick trees, it was very dark.

"You couldn't see the bottom," Lalonde said. "You couldn't see nothing."

So he felt around with his feet and found the teenager. He latched on to Guerrero's arm, trying to at least pull his head above the water. But he didn't have the strength against the strong current.

Moments later a firefighter jumped into the water. Together, they pulled Guerrero to shore. But medics couldn't revive him.

Doctors pronounced Guerrero dead at St. Joseph hospital. An autopsy to determine the official cause of death is scheduled for Wednesday.

Friends and family couldn't be reached for comment Tuesday. On his Facebook page, Guerrero showed interest in lowrider cars, bicycles and the Dallas Cowboys. He listed himself as a native of Bakersfield, Calif.

Cristina Lalonde, who stayed on land taking photos during the rescue effort, spoke with Guerrero's friends. They admitted they waited 15 minutes for him to surface before calling for help, she said.

"I just wish it could've ended differently," Joe Lalonde said.

Reach Caleb Hutton at 360-715-2276 or caleb.hutton@bellinghamherald.com. Read his dispatcher blog at blogs.bellinghamherald.com/dispatcher or follow him on Twitter at @bhamcrime.

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