By Stacey Leasca
June 03, 2019
Credit: Getty Images

A woman hiker died in northern California on Friday after slipping and falling off a cliff. Though initial reports claimed she was attempting to take a selfie, family members are denying those allegations.

According to the North Tahoe Fire Protection District, Stephanie Espinosa, a 35-year-old mother from California, fell at Eagle Falls, a waterfall located near Lake Tahoe. The fire district claimed in an intial post that the death occurred as Espinosa attempted to take selfies.

“This is a sad reminder to be cautious when taking selfies and other photos in dangerous areas,” the fire district said in a statement. “Don't underestimate the power of waterfalls, rivers, and cold water temperatures.”

Espinosa, The Reno Gazette reported, was allegedly sitting in one of the pools of water near the waterfall, near the waterfall’s 150-foot drop.

“[Espinosa] slipped while reaching for a branch and was swept away in the very fast-moving waters over the waterfall,” the El Dorado County Sheriff's Office said in a statement. Espinosa reportedly reached for a tree branch to hold onto when she slipped and was swept over a waterfall.

Espinosa’s family launched a GoFundMe campaign following her death, in which they called her a “beautiful human being.”

“She was the core of her family, the eldest sister, the strong, centered one that would always bring people together, she valued that more than anything,” the family wrote on the campaign’s page about Espinosa.

“Stephanie had an energy about her, always positive, optimistic, appreciative and caring, a free spirit,” her family said. “She would light up any room she walked into. She gave everything for those that she loved, she loved nature, being in the outdoors and spending time with her kids.”

Espinosa’s brother Nick Martinez told CBS Local that the reports of his sister’s selfie activities are simply not true.

“The whole reason why I”m doing this with you guys is to clear up the articles, they were really disturbing,” he said. “It really made Stephanie sound like she was a young girl who was just trying to take a selfie and fell off a cliff.”

According to Martinez, his sister didn’t even have her phone with her when she died. “She was trying to enjoy the moment which is something she was a big advocate of,” he said.

Even without a phone, the fire department explained in a Facebook post, the area is extremely dangerous.

“Every year, there are deaths on our waterways and in our backcountry,” the department posted. “Our message is to help visitors understand the dangers inherent to our beautiful region, and especially after this record winter, our creeks, rivers, waterfalls, and lake carry many dangers that visitors need to be aware of. Our only hope is that this tragic accident will help others to take heed and use extreme caution when they are recreating in the area.”