No changes at Patagonia Lake State Park after alcohol-related death

[Source: Nogales International]

An Arizona State Park official said there would be no change in rules regarding alcohol consumption at Patagonia Lake State Park following the drowning death of a 28-year old man who investigators said was intoxicated when he dove into the lake on Aug. 8.

Image source: Arizona State Parks

The drowning of Sergio Rene Chavez of Nogales was the latest in a string of ugly incidents since march 2009 at the park – known as a popular drinking spot – that include a stabbing and sexual assault.

A different scenario

At Parker Canyon Lake, a U.S. Forest Service recreation area southeast of Sonoita in Cochise County, locals say unruly behavior is uncommon.

Scott Kerr, owner of Parker Canyon Lake Mercantile and Marina, said he could not recall any notable incidents. He said a big reason is that drinking is not tolerated when it becomes excessive. In fact, his store doesn’t even sell alcoholic beverages.

“If they are slobbering drunk, we don’t want them here,” Kerr said. “We call law enforcement immediately.”

Kerr said the U.S. Border Patrol, which is usually the first responder, can usually make it to Parker Canyon Lake in less than 10 minutes after a call.

However, Kerr said it hasn’t always been this way.

“They say it used to be pretty crazy here because it was a dirt road and no law enforcement would come out,” he said. “The hoodlums would just party, party, party.”

Kerr said he remembered a case some years ago of a person who drank too much and drowned

’We have nobody’

Bilbrey said Patagonia Lake State Park, due to a declining number of rangers on duty, has to rely on other law enforcement agencies if a situation begins to get out of hand. Usually that means sheriff’s deputies, who at times can be up to 20 minutes away.

“We have nobody. Budget cuts have barely allowed us to keep one law enforcement person there,” Bilbrey said.

“There is nothing really we can do. People have to manage themselves.”

Hot spot for law enforcement

Patagonia Lake State Park has been a regular site of unruly, dangerous and even deadly behavior. Here are some of the incidents reported to the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office:

  • Aug. 8, 2010 – 28-year-old Sergio Rene Chavez of Nogales drowned in Patagonia Lake. Investigators said excessive alcohol was a factor.
  • June 16, 2010 – Rangers from Patagonia Lake State Park requested back-up dealing with a disorderly man with a mental condition.
  • March 27, 2010 – A man reported that his wife was at Patagonia Lake State Park, where three people, who were under the influence of alcohol, were attempting to open her car.
  • March 20, 2010 – A wreck involving four juveniles left a 17-year-old boy critically injured after the pick-up he was driving rolled near Patagonia Lake.
  • March 14, 2010 – Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office deputies responded to a stabbing at the Patagonia Lake State Park marina.
  • Oct. 24, 2009 – A caller from Patagonia Lake State Park said that a man had assaulted a woman by the bathrooms near the marina.
  • July 24, 2009 – Rangers at Patagonia Lake State Park requested assistance in transporting a man to the Santa Cruz County Detention Center after finding he had a warrant out of the Nogales Police Department.
  • June 20, 2009 – A vehicle was reported stolen at Patagonia Lake State Park, only to be later found in a canyon near Debra Court.
  • March 21, 2009 – A caller said his girlfriend had just been sexually assaulted at a campground located by the Patagonia Lake marina.

But Ellen Bilbrey, spokeswoman for Arizona State Parks, said the incidents are simply a function of the park’s high visitation.

[You may also want to read the Sierra Vista Herald’s coverage: Alcohol rules won’t change at lake]

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