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Kayaker who died was not wearing life preserver, park official says

Published: Sunday, Aug. 30 2015 4:13 a.m. MDT

This file photo shows a kayak on the water at Antelope Island State Park. A Massachusetts man who was found dead at Antelope Island State Park on Saturday was not wearing a life preserver, despite being issued one, park officials said Sunday. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News) This file photo shows a kayak on the water at Antelope Island State Park. A Massachusetts man who was found dead at Antelope Island State Park on Saturday was not wearing a life preserver, despite being issued one, park officials said Sunday. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

ANTELOPE ISLAND — A Massachusetts man who was found dead at Antelope Island State Park on Saturday was not wearing a life preserver, despite being issued one, park officials said.

James Gahran, 53, visiting from West Springfield, Mass., rented a small kayak about 2:45 p.m. and was spotted by another visitor about an hour later floating face-down roughly 75 yards off the shore, said John Sullivan, assistant park manager.

“(With) any of the rentals they give out a life jacket, but no, he was not wearing one,” Sullivan said.

A cyclist on the Antelope Island causeway saw an abandoned kayak and started looking into the water when he saw Gahran floating about a half-mile from the island’s harbor, Davis County Sheriff’s Sgt. Jason Boydston said.

Boydston said employees from a nearby rental business pulled the man from the water and bystanders started CPR prior to the arrival of emergency responders.

Gahran was unresponsive with no breath or pulse, and he was pronounced dead at the scene, Sullivan said. The length of time the man was floating face-down in the water before he was found is unknown.

While investigators said the man’s death appeared to be a drowning, it is unclear if a medical issue was a factor.

“It’s possible it could be a medical issue, because we don’t know his history,” Boydston said of the victim. “It looked to be (a drowning), but not knowing his medical history, it’s hard to know.”

The sergeant said the body was turned over to the Utah State Medical Examiner’s Office, which will perform an autopsy to determine a cause of death.

Sullivan said although Utah state law permits people to choose whether to wear life preservers, he and other park officials "staunchly" encourage visitors to wear them.

“Out here or anywhere you’re on the water, the No. 1 thing that’s going to save your life is a life jacket,” he said. “It doesn’t do you much good to have it with you and you don’t have it on.”

Email: kmckellar@deseretnews.com

Copyright 2015, Deseret News Publishing Company