The waters of Four Mile Run usually trickle slowly through the county, providing a serene backdrop for residents walking and biking on nearby trails. But those waters turned deadly last week, claiming the life of 22-year-old Annandale resident Juan Carlos Candia.
“It’s an unusual case, because how often does someone drown in an urban stream?” said Matt Martin, a spokesperson for the Arlington County Police Department.
Candia and a friend were crossing a foot bridge on the Four Mile Run bike trail near the 800 block of Arlington Mill Drive when rushing waters swept both men downstream. The friend, a 22-year-old Arlington man, managed to swim to safety and call police just after midnight Wednesday, July 23, according to Arlington County police.
Under normal conditions, the bridge sits several feet above the stream, but heavy rains caused the water to rise at least six feet, according to nearby residents. “If it rains hard for 45 minutes and you take a peek, you’ll see a big difference,” said Wawi Lake, who lives in an apartment near the scene of the accident. “It was coming down last night.”
Police officers searched the creek on foot for more than four hours, while U.S. Park Police officers flew overhead in a helicopter equipped with infrared scanners designed to pick up on body heat.
At daybreak, local officers resumed the visual search, joined by K-9 units from the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department, the Maryland-National Capital Park Police and the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department’s Urban Search and Rescue team.
After canvassing 2.5 linear miles of the stream, officials called off the search at about 6:30 p.m. The following morning, Alexandria police discovered Candia's body in Four Mile Run at Route 1, near the Arlington border.
NEARBY RESIDENTS say it's not unusual for people to be out on the trail late at night.
Lake, who works the evening shift as a cook at a nearby restaurant, frequently walks by the scene of the accident between 11:30 and midnight. In the summer, it’s rare that he passes by at that time without hearing voices on the trail. As a result, he avoids the trail and sticks to Arlington Mill Drive instead.
Fellow neighbor Shirley Moyer used to use that trail often for biking, but not anymore. “With all the things going on these days, it’s dangerous for any woman to be out there alone [at night],” she said.
New efforts from the county’s Department of Parks, Recreation, and Community Resources could improve safety on the trails. The Park Safe Program will help Park Rangers and police officers crack down on residents who violate park rules, including drinking alcohol and being in parks, including bike paths, after dark.
CANDIA’S DEATH highlights the risks some county residents face every day, said Lora Rinker, executive director of the Arlington Street People’s Assistance Network. Many homeless people use Four Mile Run for bathing and washing clothes, and sleep on the banks of the creek because they can’t find regular shelter. No homeless people have died in the stream in recent memory, Rinker said, but Candia’s death shows how dangerous Four Mile Run can become. “There have always been concerns for the people who sleep out there,” she said. “That’s why we’ve been pushing for a year-round shelter.”