GASTON, Ore. (KOIN 6) — When Ken Bilderback heard about the four family members who drowned at Henry Hagg Lake, he said he was “sick to my stomach.”
Bilderback was a volunteer with Gaston Fire Department two years ago when eight children nearly drowned in the same area near Sain Creek — where there is a steep drop off.
“I was sick to my stomach because, again, we don’t know if signs could have prevented this, but they might have,” he told KOIN 6 News. “At least if the signs had been there you could have thought, well, we did all we could.”
The four family members who drowned were identified as Jova Ixtacua-Castano, 42; Gabriela Garcia-Ixtacua, 25; Michael Garcia-Ixtacua, 13; and 3-year-old Jeremy Scholl. Gabriela and Michael are brother and sister. Jova Ixtacua-Castano is the grandmother of Jeremy and the mother to Michael and Gabriela.
In 2012, one person went off the ledge in the water, he said. “The natural instinct for the rest of the family is to go try and save them, but again, they don’t know any better than the first person did.”
A woman who helped rescue those children, Bilderback said, started an effort to try and get Washington County to put warning signs at that spot.
“At the time, she was told that we couldn’t put up those signs, so the project never got off the ground,” he said.
Officials with Washington County would only issue a statement to KOIN 6 News. They said they could not comment further because of the current investigation.
In that statement, Washington County Communications Officer Philip Bransford said:
“Washington County takes safety seriously with respect to public use of Hagg Lake and Scoggins Valley Park.
“We work closely with the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, Gaston Rural Fire District and Hillsboro Fire & Rescue to promote safe practices on Hagg Lake, including the free use of life vests stationed on the banks of the lake.
Bilderback said he is “willing to lead an effort to raise the money if the county will give us permission to put those signs up.”
Asked if he thinks he’ll get that permission, he said, “I hope this interview helps.”