Responders finally able to recover body of kayaker pinned in the Kern River for 43 days

July 27, 2023
by Lois Henry
A rescuer with the Tulare County Sheriff's Office reaches William Hoxie's capsized kayak in the Kern River on Thursday. Hoxie died when he was pinned under water in the river on June 14. Lois Henry / SJV Water
Lois Henry

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William Hoxie is finally going home.

The accomplished 26-year-old kayaker died June 14 while navigating the historic high flows on the upper Kern River.

He was kayaking with several others but got separated on one side of the river. When he tried to cross back, his craft was impaled by a submerged log and he was pinned in the river.

The force of the water kept Hoxie’s boat and his body at that spot for the past 43 days.

Tulare County Sheriff’s Department deputies in the swift water rescue unit tried to retrieve Hoxie’s body by boat and had helicopters on site several times. But until Thursday, the water was just too high, said Lt. Kevin Kemmerling.

William Hoxie. LEGACY.COM

Deputies were finally able to reach Hoxie’s boat and retrieve his body shortly before noon Thursday after flows had dropped to half what they were when Hoxie died.

The kayak had broken in two after being pummeled by water for more than a month.

“He’s going home,” said Tom Moore, owner of Kernville rafting company Sierra South. He said Hoxie had come to the area just a few days before the accident, attracted by the big water. Hoxie is from a boating family and grew up kayaking on his home river, the Trinity, according to his obituary on

Hoxie’s family declined to be interviewed for this story, according to a family spokesman.

“He knew what he was doing,” Moore said of William Hoxie. “He was doing everything right. This was just a freak, freak accident.”

Kemmerling said deputies got word of the accident at 5 p.m. June 14, but with flows at 5,000 cubic feet per second, they couldn’t get near Hoxie’s kayak. They came back the next day, and the next and the next.

“There was just no safe way to get in,” he said.

In fact, flows on the upper Kern continued to increase following the accident, all the way to 7,600 cfs, according to Kemmerling.

So, the Sheriff’s department waited, posting deputies on the road above where the river held Hoxie’s body and kept them onsite 24/7, Kemmerling said.

Rescuers couldn’t reach William Hoxie’s boat in June when this photo was taken. COURTESY Tulare Co. Sheriff’s Office

In the last week of June, flows had abated to about 4,500 cfs, and deputies launched a rescue attempt. By that time, the bow of Hoxie’s red kayak was just visible above the roiling waves.

William Hoxie’s kayak was broken apart by the force of the Kern River. Lois Henry / SJV Water

Deputies strung a high line across the churning river and used it to inch a rescue boat toward Hoxie. But the rapids quickly slung their boat around, putting it crosswise to the current. In an instant, water was gushing over one side, threatening to pull it under.

“We almost lost three guys,” Kemmerling said.

The team quickly rearranged their weight, freeing the side that was swamped and pulled themselves to safety.

Moore and several other local boaters were on hand during that attempt. He said the Tulare County deputies wanted to try again but the long-time Kern River boaters advised against it.

When flows started to drop below 3,000 cfs, deputies decided to try another rescue. This time, they were successful.

After they recovered Hoxie’s body and Kemmerling’s crew was back to shore, he shook his head.

“This was the most difficult rescue I’ve seen in my 25-year career,” he said.

With the long Labor Day weekend approaching, he had a message for the anticipated throngs of visitors: “Stay out of the river. Please.

There have been eight deaths in the Kern River so far this year, seven in the Kern County portion and one in the Tulare County stretch.

SJV Water is an independent, nonprofit news site dedicated to covering water in the San Joaquin Valley. Get inside access to SJV Water by becoming a member.


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