An Arcata man drowned while swimming with friends in Pinecrest Lake on Saturday.
The victim, Nicholas Alexander Gaerlan, 20, was swimming in 20 to 25 feet of water when he went under and didn’t resurface, according to the Tuolumne County Sheriff’s Office.
Gaerlan’s family and friends described him as a selfless, genuine and friendly person who aspired to become a U.S. Marine or pursue a career in law enforcement.
“He always put others in front of him,” said Jessica Hartman, Gaerlan’s girlfriend of more than three years. “He was also a goofball and loved to have fun, but he always did everything he could for others.”
Sheriff’s Sgt. Jeff Wilson said Gaerlan was with a group of five or six friends staying at a cabin near the lake over the weekend.
Two of his friends were swimming with him and another two were kayaking when the incident occurred, Wilson said.
Sheriff’s dispatchers received an emergency call around 12:39 p.m. from concerned friends who saw Gaerlan slip beneath the surface of the lake, a Sheriff’s Office report stated.
Witnesses told Sheriff’s deputies that Gaerlan was in good physical shape and assumed to be a good swimmer. According to the report, Gaerlan also did not call for help and did not appear to be in any trouble just prior to going underwater.
Wilson said Gaerlan was wearing long pants and steel-toed boots, which may have contributed to his drowning.
“I’d say that wearing clothing and steel-toed boots was probably his biggest mistake because they can fill with water and turn into an anchor,” Wilson said.
Wilson noted that there was no evidence of drug or alcohol intoxication.
Some of Gaerlan’s friends rushed to a nearby bait shop where they called for help when Gaerlan didn’t resurface, Wilson said. He was dead by the time he was pulled from the water.
Gaerlan was born and raised in San Mateo.
“We were high school sweethearts,” Hartman said. “We met in class through friends. Everyone knew him and loved him.”
She said he moved to Arcata with her after she was accepted into Humboldt State University.
Gaerlan had been attending College of the Redwoods in Eureka and deciding between military or law enforcement careers, Hartman said.
He also had a passion for the outdoors. He enjoyed shooting, fishing and hunting, as well as BMX and skateboarding, Hartman said.
Gaerlan also played guitar and piano, she said.
“He didn’t really care what other people thought, he just did what he wanted to do,” she said.
A private gathering of Gaerlan’s friends and family is being organized by his mother.
Gaerlan is survived by his father, Raul Gaerlan; mother, Melissa Sweezey; brother, Derek Gaerlan; sisters Megan and Anabelle; and grandparents, Nicolas and Pelagia Gaerlan. He also had many aunts, uncles and cousins.
“He was a really good person,” said Gaerlan’s mother, Melissa Sweezey. “And it didn’t take a lot of training from me, it just came naturally to him.”