Sign honors friend

By: Gloria Beverage, Colfax Record Editor
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Deena Fair believes her best friend’s death could have been prevented. On May 16, 2009, Cheryl Ann Johnson and her 10-year-old son decided to float down the Bear River in innertubes. Johnson, 51, and her son jumped into the river just below the bridge on Highway 174 intending to float down river to a campsite at Rollins Lake. While they were both wearing life jackets, Johnson’s came off when she became trapped in rock formations beneath the surface and drowned. Her son, who attempted to save her, survived and was airlifted out of the canyon. “That stretch of the Bear has ‘blind’ Class IV and V rapids,” Fair said, adding Class IV rapids are considered “unnavigable” by professional white water rafters. After her friend’s death, Fair, a former Colfax resident, was horrified to learn there is no warning of the hidden danger on that particular stretch of the river. “There’s no warning sign there,” Fair continued. “I couldn’t get it out of my head. If there had been a warning sign there, she wouldn’t have gone in. She would never have put her son in harm’s way.” On the one-year anniversary of their friend’s death, Fair and her husband, Toby White-Beebe, returned to the site just outside Colfax. With the permission of Nevada County, they installed a sign that warns of the dangerous conditions. It is their way of paying tribute to their friend. “She was a wonderful woman. She was a part of my life,” Fair continued. “If the sign saves just one life, it will be worth it.” Fair said the woman she had known for 20 years liked being outdoors — whether it was working in her garden or camping with friends.. Johnson had worked in the trucking industry for most of her adult life. In fact, she completed truck driving school and drove trucks for a short time. She had just completed studies for an associate’s degree in accounting and was already enrolled in classes to earn a bachelor’s degree with a career goal of becoming a controller.