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What were those three thinking atop Vernal Falls?
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None of us are immune from doing stupid things - typically in the earlier half of our lives but also in the latter.

I've certainly done my share of stupid things. Off the top of my head was in incident in which I expected that I could successfully shoot the rapids of the Stanislaus River above the Knights Ferry covered bridge - no boat or raft, mind you - only to fight for my life to get out of being pinned between two boulders by water streaming between them. I've never come as close to dying. It was a pivotal moment in which I learned an immense amount of respect for water.

My heart goes out to the families of the three victims who were swept over Vernal Falls on July 19. We can only imagine the pain they must be feeling. But I'm going to ask the question everybody else is asking: What were they thinking? I'm sure the families of all three will be pondering an answer for a long time.

The three - Hormiz David, 22, of Modesto, Ninos Yacoub, 27, of Turlock, and Ramina Badal, 21, of Manteca - were part of a group from the Church of the East, St. George Parish in Ceres, who were visiting Yosemite National Park. They hiked the well-traveled Mist Trail to the top of the falls.

Eyewitness Jake Bibee saw the young adults stop at Vernal Falls to eat lunch and take photos. Several members of the group jumped the metal pole and wire fence that keeps hikers away from the wildly flowing stream.

I've stood at that same ledge perhaps 10 times in my life and have never felt the compulsion to do something as insane as hop that fence. All of our family photo opps were taken on the safe side of the rock. I did have a friend who crossed on the railing on the cliff wall, not the river side. I flipped and then pleaded for him to get back. He laughed at me the whole time. He just didn't think anything bad would happen. It didn't but I suppose his same feelings of fearlessness and invicibility were experienced by the three who died July 17.

A witness to the three deaths - we have to assume they are dead although the bodies have not recovered - said a male was posing near the waterfall with a screaming young girl in his arms as a teenage girl took pictures. Bystanders are freaking out and eventually he heeds their concern and comes back over the fence. Another male and female crossed the fence and made their way to a rock in the middle of the river to pose for photographs. The woman, Ramina Badal, slipped on a wet rock as Hormiz David instinctively reachs for her and slips in himself. Yacoub then tries to get them and falls in. All three are swept over 314 feet of straight vertical rock.

I was in Yosemite on Saturday and watched the torrent of late summer water flow down the river streaming from Vernal and Nevada Falls. Ironically, the next day, San Ramon woman Hayley LaFlamme fell to her death from Half Dome on slick rock conditions caused by storm weather.

Both incidences are profoundly tragic - and totally unnecessary.

The fence is enough. But after an incident of this nature, the gut reaction is to cry for more to be done, for more safeguards. A relative of one of the waterfall victims, Romina Kiryakous, is calling for more to be done to separate hikers from the water, as if common sense shouldn't be enough of a deterrent from stepping beyond any railing. Kiryakous is founder of Genesis Behavior Center, Inc.

We live in a nanny state America that demand guarantees that things won't go bad when poor choices are made or when common sense is violated. We see it everywhere when criminals sue police if they are shot in the commission of a crime, or when people make unwise financial decisions and lose their houses and expect the taxpayers to rescue them. This is the age of Obama where some expect government to take care of everything, including saving us when we violate the rules of common sense. That's why we generally trade our freedom for security and allow government to control more and more.

No, the fence is enough. It's worked well for decades. Yosemite National Park is heavily visited each year and millions have successfully made the trek from Happy Isles to Vernal Falls and beyond to Half Dome. Since anyone has bothered to keep records, 17 people have been swept over Vernal Falls. At least one individual was swept over Yosemite Falls, which is 1,430 feet in the upper falls alone.

The ugly truth in life is that a stupid mistake, a glance at a cell phone while texting and driving or passing on a blind curve or hiking on slick rock or playing at the top of a waterfall, can cruelly take a life so very quickly. Sadly, such tragedies cannot be reversed. They are permanent.

No, the current safeguard are adequate but they are not foolproof. If someone wants to play a dangerous stunt for a camera, no law or fence can guarantee another tragedy won't take place.

How do you feel? Let Jeff by e-mailing him at