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Woodward Drowning Claims Modesto Man
Vigil Also Held For River Victim
Vigil 1
Karina Chavez was one of the organizers for a Monday night vigil honoring the life of Josue Sanchez, a Class of 2011 graduate from Escalon High School, who drowned in the Stanislaus River near Knights Ferry on May 23. - photo by Marg Jackson/The Leader

A 51-year-old Modesto man, identified by Stanislaus County officials as John Nelson, drowned at Woodward Reservoir on Monday afternoon. Several 9-1-1 calls were received at the sheriff’s department about 1:45 p.m. Monday, June 19 reporting a possible drowning at Woodward, in Area BB on the east side of the reservoir.

Stanislaus Consolidated Fire Protection District water rescue team responded, along with sheriff’s deputies, and the body was located about 100 feet from shore less than an hour after crews arrived on scene. Authorities said the man was not wearing a life jacket.

Like many area waterways, the water level at the reservoir is high and officials said the area where the man drowned has an uneven terrain with sudden drop offs.

Meanwhile, the family of Josue Sanchez, 23, gathered for a vigil on Monday night in neighboring Escalon, after his body was recovered near Knights Ferry by the covered bridge, not far from where he was last seen on May 23. Sanchez and a friend had been hiking in the area and decided to cool off in the water, hanging on to a raft-like inflatable as they entered the river. They hit rapids and lost their grip, with Sanchez’s friend able to make it to shore. Sanchez did not make it, the current running too swiftly.

The rescue team, which had been searching the river since the May 23 incident, located his body on June 14 and family members were contacted to make an identification. Officials said they are awaiting DNAS test results before making an official ID but the family has planned a funeral service and burial for Sanchez.

Members of the Class of 2011 from Escalon High School hosted a vigil for the family Monday night, remembering their classmate.

Helping organize the vigil, which also was designed to raise funds for the family to offset funeral costs, was classmate Karina Chavez.

“What better way to bring everyone together to remember him, to honor him,” Chavez said.

Signatures and messages were being gathered on photo boards and a large cut out cross, which will be displayed at the funeral service.

Cassandra Yepez, another friend, said the tragedy hit close to home and they hoped to help the family by bringing friends and classmates together to celebrate his life.

A Rosary was scheduled for 9 a.m. Wednesday, June 21 followed by the funeral at Cano Funeral Home in Stockton. At noon, a Mass is planned at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church on Highway 120 in Escalon, followed by burial.

Chavez said several groups provided some donations to help with the Monday night vigil effort, with all proceeds benefiting the family.

She, along with many EHS alum, were sharing what are now bittersweet memories of Josue Sanchez.

“I just remember him walking down the halls, I can see him smiling, he always had something funny to say, some kind of sarcastic remark,” Chavez remembered. “You hear the saying that a person can light up a room, he would walk in and he literally did light up a room. He was a great guy.”

Younger sister Lluvia Sanchez, 21, said though the family is devastated by the loss, they were appreciative of the outpouring of love and support.

“This is amazing,” she said.


Sanchez’s mother Cristina and younger brother Christian live in Oakdale.