Off-duty officer saves two girls in Chowchilla River

Youngsters were swept downstream

tmiller@mercedsunstar.comJuly 27, 2013 

An off-duty law enforcement officer rescued two girls swept away by a fast-moving current of the Chowchilla River, according to Chowchilla police Sgt. John Markle.

According to police, a woman took her two daughters to Ash Slough in north Chowchilla, at 7:56 p.m. Wednesday. Police did not reveal the ages of the woman or her daughters.

The girls were swept downstream and out of their mother's sight before she could react, police said.

Some distance down the river, the girls grabbed a branch, police said. As they clung to the branch, the mother yelled for help.

California Fish and Game Lt. Tony Spada, an off-duty Chowchilla police reserve officer, happened to be riding his bike in the area and heard the mother's screams, police said.

Spada entered the fast-moving water, police said, and swam to the girls. He carried one from the branch to the riverbank, then swam back for the other girl, who he also carried to the bank.

"Spada's quick thinking and response to this situation saved these two little girls' lives and stopped this event from having a tragic ending," Markle said in a news release.

Spada is trained in water rescue. Police said anyone without the proper training should not attempt to rescue others in swift-moving water.

Police said swimming in Ash Slough is illegal and its currents are dangerous. Swimming is allowed in south Chowchilla's Brenda Reservoir.

"The girls were very lucky," Markle said.

Reporter Thaddeus Miller can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or at

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