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A Day at the Salt River

Cliff diving accident

Two young men decided to jump from a cliff at the Salt River. One man lived and one man died. Which one will you be?

Michael Dugal was a promising 20 year old ASU student from Lafayette, Louisiana. On August 18, 2003 I took him with me to the Salt River. Like most people who go to the river, we were having a blast; drinking, getting a tan, and goofing around while tubing down the river. After about 3 hours we came to an enormous mountain with a hole cut into it, about 20 feet up. If you have been to the Salt River, you know what I am talking about; it is very common to see people climb the mountain and jump from the hole in mountain it to the water.

The day Michael and I went there were already 2 young men above the hole in the mountain, about 70 feet from the water. A crowd had gathered and people were yelling, "Don't jump!", "Come down!", and "I'll pay you $20 to come down!". From the place where the men were, it was a steep climb up about 10 feet to safely climb back down the mountain. Michael, being a nice guy, and an Army Reserve told me he was going to climb up to where the men were, and help them climb up to safety. In minutes he was to the top, helping the men. One of the two climbed back down the water.

Michael and a 17 year old complete stranger, named Austin stood on a ledge together, small rocks falling from under them, and had a conversation for at least 5 minutes while the crowd continued to plead with the men to come down. They pointed to places in the water from up above, and allegedly Michael was telling Austin he has jumped from high places similar to where they were standing in his Army training.

Seconds later they jump off the cliff together, while I capture it on video. Austin comes up from under water unhurt; Michael does not come to the surface. Austin then dives for him as a group of witnesses hurry to pull his lifeless body to the surface. I help carry him to shore.

Michael is badly and visibly bruised on his neck and chest. He is unconscious, but breathing and coughing up blood and lake water. We lay him on his back and think he has a pulse. I am talking to him, standing by in case he needs CPR. Blood and brown and black chunks of things from the lake are coming out of his mouth and nose. Myself and another woman turn him on his side to prevent him from choking on his own blood.

Suddenly his chest stops moving and I started CPR with another woman. Witnesses who were further down the river called for help while I gave my dying roommate CPR. It was very hard to stomach giving him CPR; as I was pushing air into his lungs, other things from the lake would come back into my mouth. We administered CPR for twenty to twenty-five minutes before help arrived; for a good 10 minutes we could not feel a pulse, but continued. I had only a short break before the man who tried to help with the breathing could not take it anymore.

Help finally arrived. Michael was taken in a helicopter. The police watched my video tape and gathered information from those involved. If Michael was dead, the paramedics would not tell me, and instead told me to go to the hospital. He was pronounced dead upon arrival to the hospital.

I was told that even if a full medical staff and equipment was on shore, that he still could not have been saved. His body just shut down once it hit the water. The cause of death was drowning. He did not have one broken bone in his body. In the video you can see that Austin landed feet first and Michael landed more on his rib cage.

In an instant, one bad decision was made and now Michael is dead. He leaves his two parents, 18 year old sister, 16 year old brother, his girlfriend, his family, his friends and me, his roommate to cope with losing such a young life in such a tragic way. It did not need to happen this way.

Labor Day weekend is this weekend and The Salt River will be packed. People will be jumping from cliffs. I watched someone die after jumping. This is not the first death at the Salt River cliff diving. I urge you to make people aware of how dangerous it really is and do not risk your life for such a small thrill.

Submitted By Steve Horath
Maricopa County Sheriff's Office

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