Santa Rosa rugby player victim in Russian River drowning

The victim who drowned in the Russian River last week was a Santa Rosa rugby player and beloved community member.

The victim, 28-year-old Nasoni "Toni" Tuitoga of Santa Rosa, was identified by the Sonoma County Sheriff's Office on Sunday.

Tuitoga was a member of the Santa Rosa Rugby Club, which paid tribute to him in a social media post, saying, "It’s a sad day in our rugby community. We lost on of our players this week, Tony (Nasoni Tuitoga Jr) and our team won’t be the same without his energy. Our condolences and prayers go out to his family and loved ones."

His friends said they needed a break from the heat and went to the Russian River on Wednesday to swim, but a fun day turned scary when he was sucked down by a whirlpool and never came to shore.

Tuitoga's body was found Friday afternoon after crews searched for two days.


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His mother, Lavenia Cavora Tuinaceva Tuitoga, said he was her youngest son.

"I’m going to miss him so much, his smile," she said.

Friend Joe Quaihoi said he was there when he watched Tuitoga jump in the water.

"The crazy part was we were like yelling out at him when we saw him swimming around in circles like, ‘Hey, you OK?’ and he never really said anything back until he disappeared under the water," recalled Quaihoi.

Tuitoga's mother said his friends tried to save him, but they were unable to.

"They (search and rescue) said when they found him, he was like 30–40 feet away from where everyone said he disappeared," said Quaihoi.

Lavenia Cavora Tuinaceva Tuitoga described the moment an officer came to her door to give her the news.

"They put his cell phone on the table and then I just started crying. I knew," she said.

The young man was not the only person to drown during the recent heat wave. Sonoma County authorities said a second person died in Monte Rio over the weekend.

Last Monday, the body of a missing San Jose teen was pulled from the San Joaquin River. On Tuesday, an Oakland man drowned in the Modesto Reservoir.

Tuitoga's family said his time was cut too short.

"I just keep on asking God to give us peace in our hearts," said his mother.