Emotional candlelight vigil for El Cajon teen killed - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

Emotional candlelight vigil for El Cajon teen killed after accident at Cedar Creek Falls

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CLEVELAND NATIONAL FOREST (CNS/News 8) - Friends and family gathered Friday night for a candle light vigil honoring a 16-year-old boy who fell to his death from an 80-foot cliff at a scenic waterfall area in the East County highlands.

Joe Meram, who would have been a junior at Valhalla High School in El Cajon, was remembered as an extraordinary friend with an electrifying smile.

"Joe was an amazing guy," said Kandice Kalasho, one of Meram's closest friends. "He had the biggest heart that anyone could ever have. I can't believe he's gone, but God needed him more than we did. He takes the best, and Joe was chosen."

"He really is one of the greatest people who ever lived," said Sebastian Salem, a cousin. "You just saw that smile, and you knew it was him."

In the wake of the fatal accident, forestry officials announced Friday that they will close the site to the public for up to four months, starting Saturday.

Two days ago, Joseph Meram of El Cajon slipped off a trail alongside the rocky precipice at Cedar Creek Falls, a secluded spot popular with sightseers and thrill-seekers who leap off the bluffs into a shallow swimming hole below.

The teen struck his head on boulders before landing in the pool. Medics pronounced him dead while airlifting him out of the back-country locale in Cleveland National Forest.

Due to the high-schooler's death and other accidents in the rugged area east of Ramona, administrators of the federal wilderness preserve decided to close the areas surrounding the falls while working on a management plan to improve safety there, said Brian Harris, a spokesman for the national forest.

One of the concepts under consideration is a permitting process that would allow a certain number of approved visitors to go to the falls on a given day, Harris said.

Due to the size of the site and the rough terrain within it, safety features such as fences or railings likely are not feasible, he said. And the forest service has nowhere near enough staff to provide rangers who could act as lifeguards, according to Harris.

"Cleveland National Forest is not like a city park," he said.

The closure is scheduled to last through Nov. 8, though it may be shortened if the management strategy is completed soon enough, the spokesman said.

The off-limits areas include a trailhead at Thornbush Road, a trail to and from the falls from the Thornbush Road Trailhead, a trail from Saddleback on Eagle Peak Road and the falls site itself. The closure area extends for a quarter-mile on both sides of the trails and the falls.

The remote locale has been a growing problem as more visitors get hurt there or become stranded without enough water or proper footwear, according to public-safety agencies.

Last weekend, emergency crews had to transport 10 or more injured, dehydrated or heat-exhausted Fourth of July day-trippers out of the area, Cal Fire Capt. Mike Mohler said.

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