Teen who died in Sacramento River drowning called a hero for trying to save brother

James Sashe

The father of a teen says his son died Sunday in the Sacramento River trying to save his younger brother as they were caught in the cold and fast-moving water.

Amari Quarles, 15, of Sacramento died in a drowning in the Sacramento River near Sand Cove Park. James Sashe, the teen’s father, said his son was trying to save his brother, Elijah, when he disappeared under the water.

“My son died a hero,” Sashe wrote on a GoFundMe online fundraising page. “I’m so proud of what he did.”

The father started the GoFundMe crowdfunding web page to raise money to pay for his son’s funeral and burial costs. He said his son was a good student at Natomas High School, and his family had recently moved to California from New York.

“This was an unexpected tragedy, and help will be greatly appreciated,” the father wrote. As of Wednesday, donors had given nearly $19,000 in financial support.

On Tuesday, the Natomas Unified School District confirmed the student’s death in a “horrible tragedy” in a Facebook post. School district officials shared a link to father’s GoFundMe page, saying “the family could use your help.”

Amari was with a group of six people, including his father, on Sunday. Sashe told The Sacramento Bee that they had no plans to get in the water that day. He said Elijah got into the water to fetch a football that had gone into the river.

“It seemed like a shallow area (of the river),” the father said. “It just started to take him out.”

Sashe said Amari wasted no time and rushed into the river to get his brother, who was struggling in the water. The father and his wife, once they realized both boys were in the river, jumped into the water, as well. His wife was able to reach both boys, but they struggled to get back amid the thrashing river currents.

Sashe’s wife felt a steep dropoff in the water, feeling almost “like a cliff” underneath them, the father said.

“That’s the part that Amari got stuck in,” Sash said. “He would’ve given his life for any of his family members. And he lost his life trying to save his brother.”

He said his wife and Elijah were pulled out of the river by passersby in a boat, “or else there would’ve three deaths.”

Capt. Justin Sylvia, a spokesman for the Sacramento Fire Department, said they sent in rescue swimmers searching for the teen after he was reported missing about 5:30 p.m. Sunday.

For the past several weeks, local officials have warned everyone that it is still too cold to swim in Northern California rivers. The temperatures have reached the 90s in Sacramento, but the record Sierra snowpack is melting and creating dangerously fast and cold currents for anyone else looking to cool off.

“The river is nasty right there in that Sandy Cove Park area,” Sylvia said on Wednesday. “He was probably just in an area too deep, and the cold water played a factor.”

Water temperatures have run in the mid-60s along the Sacramento River and below 60 degrees in the nearby American River this month.

Cold water temperatures can create challenging conditions. Taking a plunge into cold water can be a shock to the body, limiting the swimmer’s ability to stay above the water’s surface.

After rescue swimmers searched the river for more than an hour, the search switched from a rescue operation to a body recovery operation, Sylvia said. The Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office used sonar and water rescue technology to find the teen’s body not far from where he went missing.