Student drowns in Lake Piru

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GLENDALE — Friends and family of a 36-year-old Glendale student who drowned Saturday in Lake Piru said he dreamed about becoming a licensed vocational nurse.

Los Angeles resident Roberto Barros Jr. was taking several courses at Allied Medical & Health Services Inc. in the 700 block of South Central Avenue to become a nurse.

"He was so happy because this is the first time he would make something out of his life," said Celeste Olavarria, his aunt, who was also serving as foster mother.

Graduation was several months away for Barros and other nursing students, who, like every other year, took a break during the weekend from classes and headed to Lake Piru.

Barros and a group of more than 25 people gathered at the recreational area and went swimming, according to Ventura County Sheriff's deputies.

Barros and some friends decided to go for a swim about 2:45 p.m. Saturday, so they boarded a pontoon boat and sailed out on the lake, said Capt. Ross Bonfiglio, a Sheriff's Department spokesman.

Five minutes into the swim, strong wind gusts began blowing the boat away from the group, Bonfiglio said.

Barros' fiancee, Cecil Jubac, noticed him sinking, so she threw a rope and a life jacket into the lake, Bonfiglio said.

The choppy water and strong winds made it impossible for Barros to grab hold as he continued to float farther away, he said.

"He began to panic and struggle," Bonfiglio said

The other swimmers were rescued by another boat, but the pontoon boat could not reach Barros.

A sheriff's helicopter with a diver and rescue swimmer arrived at the lake minutes later and began searching for him.

"That lake — it's notorious for people drowning there," Bonfiglio said.

A search-and-rescue crew used divers and sonar technology and found Barros' body at 11:30 a.m. Monday in the 1,240-acre lake, where two other men have drowned in the past three years, he said.

Friends and family said they were deeply saddened by the death of Barros, whom they described as generous and loving.

Barros proposed to his fiancee a couple of weeks ago and was set to get married in December, his aunt said.

He emigrated from the province of Quezon in the Philippines to the United States in 2002.

In that time, Barros captured the hearts of many friends, including Bernard Cadiz.

Cadiz, who knew Barros for two years, often called him "Obie" and "Kuya," which means big brother in Tagalog.

"He was like my big brother," Cadiz said. "There wasn't anybody who didn't like him."

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