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2 drowning victims identified

Two teenagers who drowned in the Kentucky River in rural Woodford County on Sunday have been identified as friends from Mexico who had been living in Versailles for the last few years.

Deputy Woodford County Coroner Danny Owens said Monday that the two were Javier Garcia and Rafael Mercenario, both 17.

According to Owens, Garcia jumped into the river to go swimming and was overcome by a strong undercurrent. Mercenario dove in to help, but was pulled under by the same current, Owens said.

The boys were from Mexico, but they had been living in Versailles with friends and relatives for the past three or four years, according to Mercenario's sister-in-law, Delia Vega. The two had worked part-time on some area horse farms and at a fast-food restaurant in Versailles, Vega said Monday.

According to Owens, Mercenario and Garcia were with a group of people fishing and relaxing Sunday afternoon on the riverbank at Kentucky River Lock and Dam No. 6, at the end of Oregon Road in southwestern Woodford County.

Owens said that, according to witnesses, the two teens moved to a spot just below the dam sometime after 1 p.m. Sunday, and stepped onto some large rocks in the water.

According to Owens, Garcia then apparently decided to go swimming and leaped into the water, but quickly was caught in the strong undercurrent just below the dam. Garcia struggled for some minutes, became exhausted and went under, Owens said.

At that point, Mercenario jumped into the water to help his friend, only to be pulled under himself, Owens said.

Searchers found the bodies sometime after 8 p.m. Sunday, using sonar equipment brought from Grant County.

Owens said Monday that no autopsies are planned because the case appears to be straightforward, and no foul play is suspected.

“The water below the dam is deceptive,” Owens said. “It can look relatively calm on top of the water, but there is a very strong current below the surface and, unfortunately, these young men apparently were not familiar with that. It's a real tragedy.”

Vega said her brother-in-law, Mercenario, was from a town in Mexico called Santa Maria Cahuanana, Guerrero, and Garcia was from the town of Tlapa, Guerrero. Their families still live in Mexico, she said, although Mercenario's father is deceased.

Visitation will be from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday at the Blackburn & Ward Funeral Home in Versailles. The bodies later will be returned to Mexico for burial, the funeral home said.