Mom of man who drowned: 'He was just a good man'

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) The Kern County Coroner's Office released the results of the autopsy on the man who was found dead in the Kern River on Tuesday, determining the cause of death as an accidental drowning.

Search-and-rescue crews pulled the body of Clayton Hurst from the river.

Hurst's mother and nephew spoke with Eyewitness News on Friday and described him as a man who loved his family and was well-known in the community.

"He said, 'If anybody is a walking miracle, I am,'" said mother Helen Hurst.

"I quit smoking, drinking and drugs," the mother recalled her son saying.

Hurst, 44, had just completed a sober-living program. His mother said he worked in the oil fields, loved his family and was turning his life around.

"He's been on and off of drugs for quite a few years now, and he just quit," said Helen Hurst. "He was totally clean."

Hurst wandered off after a day of tubing on the Kern River with family and friends. Just 24 hours later, search-and-rescue volunteers pulled a body out of the river at Hart Park.

Nephew Robert Ornelas said no one initially called police, because it wasn't unlike him to wander off.

"It's like him, he's really a spontaneous person, so it wasn't out of the ordinary for him to take off," Ornelas said.

Ornelas and his grandmother described Hurst as a family man, and a happy, fun-loving person. They say he was a person who lived in the moment.

The last time Ornelas saw his uncle, he said that was exactly what he was doing.

"We heard him yell, like he jumped back in the water or something," said Ornelas. "He was like that, happy spontaneous type of person."

Ornelas said he has his suspicions, but can't imagine what could have happened.

"He was the strongest swimmer I'd ever seen," said Ornelas. "He was a healthy man at 44 years old. It was never a thought that he had drowned."

The family said Hurst was a fixture in the community, and leaves a void that won't easily be filled.

"He was just a good man, you know," said Helen Hurst, "and I'm sure gonna miss him."

Hurst and his family originate from Shafter, and they wish to bury him there.

They are asking for donations to help with funeral costs.

If you would like to donate, call the family at (661) 348-4762. Donations can also be mailed or delivered to 1104 Quantico Ave., Bakersfield, CA 93307.