Californian river closes after Lancaster man and his family dies nearby

The mysterious deaths of a Lancaster dad, his wife, daughter and dog have led federal officials to close 28 miles along the Merced River, where high levels of toxic algae were detected.

Tuesday, 7th September 2021, 10:29 am
Updated Tuesday, 7th September 2021, 10:30 am

The Bureau of Land Management closed campgrounds and recreation areas along the river, between the towns of Briceburg and Bagby on Friday after receiving test results of water samples downstream from where the family died.

Algal blooms can form in waterways that are shallow and warm.

Elizabeth Meyer-Shields, a BLM field manager, said: "“These algal blooms can produce toxins that can make people and pets extremely sick. We will continue to monitor for the algae’s presence and look forward to when the public can safely recreate in the Merced River.”

Jonathan Gerrish, his partner Ellen Chung and their one-year-old daughter Muji.

The bodies of John Gerrish, originally from Lancaster, his wife, Ellen Chung, their one-year-old daughter, Miju, and their dog were found on August 17 on a hiking trail close to the river in the Sierra National Forest. A family friend had reported them missing.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Gerrish was sitting with the dog and child, while Chung was found a few steps away at the spot in Devil's Gulch, a part of the Sierra National Forest in the north of the state.

Autopsies found no signs of attack and no obvious poisoning.

A cause of death has not been determined, and investigators are considering whether toxic algae blooms or other hazards may have contributed to the deaths.

Jonathan Gerrish, originally from Lancaster, was found dead with his family on a hiking trail in northern California.

Toxicology reports are still pending, and investigators have ruled out any weapons being used or dangerous gases from a mine along the trail.