Tragic Drowning Incident Shocks Rugby Community

A Fijian rugby player drowned in the Russian River in Santa Rosa, California last week.

Twenty-eight-year-old Nasoni “Toni” Tuitoga and his friends went to the Russian River on Wednesday to escape the heat. A fun day turned tragic when Tuitoga was pulled down by a whirlpool and did not resurface.

His body was found Friday afternoon after a two-day search, and he 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. “It’s a sad day in our rugby community. We lost one 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,” the post read.

Speaking to KTVU FOX 2 TV News, his mother, Lavenia Cavora Tuinaceva Tuitoga, expressed her grief, “I’m going to miss him so much, his smile.”

Friend Joe Quai Hoi, who was present during the incident, recounted, “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.”

Tuitoga’s mother said his friends tried to save him but 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,” Quai Hoi added.

Lavenia Tuitoga described the devastating moment an officer came to her door with the news. “They put his cell phone on the table and then I just started crying. I knew,” she said.

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

The Tuitoga family is originally from Naivicula, Wainibuka in Tailevu.

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