Lake Claims Father’s Life - Mountain News : News

Lake Claims Father’s Life

By Mary-Justine Lanyon, Editor | Posted: Thursday, September 1, 2016 6:00 am

What started as an ideal afternoon for a Rimforest father and his 6-year-old son turned tragic on Monday, Aug. 29.

Jose Sotelo and his son, Joseph, had launched their remote control boat at Grass Valley Lake. When something went wrong with the controls, stranding the boat in the lake, Sotelo went in to retrieve it.

He never came out.

Lake Arrowhead resident Ryan Winger was also at the park, playing with his 2-year-old daughter before dinner.

“We walked by the father and son to feed the ducks,” Winger said. “Then we went over to the swings.”

The father and daughter decided to take one more walk around the peninsula.

“I saw someone in the water but didn’t see any signs of distress,” Winger said. He thought it was odd as he had never seen anyone swimming in Grass Valley Lake.

When Winger got to where Joseph was on the shore, the boy said to him, “My Dad died.”

He looked solemn and serious but not upset, Winger said. When he asked the boy where his father was, the answer was “in the water.”

“I saw a man’s boots and T-shirt by a tree,” Winger said. “I asked the boy his Dad’s name.” Given the name Jose, Winger called him three times but got no answer.

“I saw no bubbles in the water,” he said, adding he saw the boat floating on the water.

Winger called 9-1-1 at 5:40 p.m. on Monday. Within eight minutes, he said, a San Bernardino County Fire engine arrived. When they heard the problem was a possible drowning, they called in the San Bernardino Sheriff’s Department’s dive team.

Sgt. Brad Bonnet of the dive team said they arrived within an hour of the 9-1-1 call. Initially they got conflicting information on Sotelo’s point of entry into the lake, which made locating him difficult.

“That last-seen point is critical,” Sgt. Bonnet said.

Divers went into the lake one at a time for 2-1/2 hours.

“There was zero visibility,” the sergeant said. “There were no weeds but the bottom of the lake has two to three feet of mud.” Disturbing that mud kicks up sediment that made it difficult for the divers to see.

Once Sgt. Bonnet could no longer see his diver in the water, he called the operation for the night. They returned at 7 a.m. on Tuesday.

They came armed with critical information. A part-time resident who lives on the other side of Grass Valley Lake, made aware of the crisis, accessed his security camera footage. It showed Sotelo entering the lake.

With the point of entry information, Deputy Amy Bilbao of Rancho Cucamonga was able to locate Sotelo in 15 minutes.

Bonnet said Sotelo’s body was found in six to eight feet of water 63 feet from shore.

“If your feet go into the mud,” he said, “that creates suction.” He added that the more you struggle to get out, the deeper you get sucked down in.

Bilbao said the dive was like a “treasure hunt,” meaning no disrespect but acknowledging just how important Sotelo was to his family.

“This is what we train for,” she said. “We bring closure to the family.”

Sotelo’s brother, Andree Orlando Sotelo, was at the scene. He described his 39-year-old brother as a good worker and a good father.

“He was a really good dad,” he said.

Sotelo worked for Home Defenders. His boss, Mike Nolan, was also at the scene. He said that Sotelo had started with the company working part time. “I wanted to keep him because he was such a good worker,” he said. “He had a hustle mentality, something I like in a worker.”

When a representative from the coroner’s office arrived, she talked with Winger, Andree Sotelo, Nolan and Jim Grant, general manager of the Arrowhead Lake Association, which owns the park.

Once she had finished her work and Sotelo’s body had been moved into the coroner’s van, the coroner’s representative took Andree to the van to identify his brother’s body.

Watching him, Winger said that “judging from Joseph’s demeanor last night and Andree’s today, I would say that bravery runs in this family.”