The girlfriend of Anthony D'Alelio, a 19-year-old Montrealer who drowned last July while swimming in the Rivière-Rouge in the upper Laurentians, has launched a petition to force the Quebec government to post signs on the river bank, warning people about the dangerous quicksand and currents.
D'Alelio is one of more than a dozen victims claimed by the river in the past two decades, and Sara Agostini-Guerrera — D'Alelio's high-school sweetheart — says the level-headed teen would never have risked going for a dip with friends had he any idea of the extreme danger.
"There was four of them swimming," D'Alelio recounts, adding that the spot where the teens went in was deceptively calm and shallow — just knee-deep across most of the river, but deep in other spots. "They all started getting pulled by the current. Anthony [was] a very good swimmer…He was the furthest out."
"People on the shore who are friends, too, were throwing branches, helping everyone get back in. And when everyone got on the shore, they turned around and were like, 'Ok, Anthony is still there.' He was screaming in the water," she says.
She said two of D'Alelio's friends jumped back in while holding onto branches, and one of them managed to get hold of the young man but lost his grip as all three struggled to keep their heads above the water. His body was found a few hours later by police divers, at the bottom of a deep pool.
Only warning sign hidden
The spot where D'Alelio drowned is known by locals to be dangerous, but there are no warning signs posted on the beach where visitors come to sunbathe. The only sign is a small one, hidden in the brush on the opposite bank — erected by a local restaurant, not the municipality.
"There is nothing in your face, telling about the quicksands or anything. [Nothing to say] it's dangerous, there are high currents," Agostini-Guerrera says. "No signing. No fencing. Nothing."
Agostini-Guerrera's petition has so far garnered 750 signatures, and she hopes to deliver it to the government by the end of the year.
She's also calling on everyone who signs the petition to boycott tourist spots in the municipalities of Rivière-Rouge and nearby Labelle until the warnings are posted.
Mayor: 'We've done what we can.'
At the time of D'Alelio's death, Rivière-Rouge Mayor Déborah Bélanger told CBC News the municipality had "done what we can" to warn visitors about the dangers posed by the river.
"The town's reasoning is, 'We can't put up signs because people won't come anymore because they're scared of dying, they're scared of being in danger,'" said Agostini-Guerrera.
She says she'll take her fight to every level of government — including Ottawa, which has jurisdiction over waterways — until warnings are posted and the most dangerous areas are cordoned off.
Agostini-Guerrera says though just 19, she and D'Alelio had plans to spend their lives together, and his death has changed her forever.
"I can't let my boyfriend be another dead kid in the water, another young life lost," she says. "No, he didn't die for nothing."