Two people have died on Catalina Island, including a harbor patrol officer who was swept overboard and crushed between a boat and rocks amid a fierce storm, authorities said Wednesday.
Unusually strong winds began whipping up waters in Avalon Harbor about 8 p.m. Tuesday, sending waves towering and beaching several vessels, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Sgt. Robert Berardi.
“As the winds increased, so did the wave heights, which kept the Avalon Harbor Department personnel — patrol officers — extremely busy throughout the night,” Berardi said. “Unfortunately, as heroic as they were, one of their officers succumbed to injuries.”
Deputies from Avalon Station and city Harbor Department personnel were working to secure loose boats when a city vessel came “perilously close to hitting rocks, so one of the patrolmen jumped from the vessel to get to safety,” a Sheriff’s Department news release stated.
Two deputies tried unsuccessfully to rescue the patrolman, who became stuck between the boat and rocks under “turbulent waves,” the release said. Homicide detectives were investigating the patrolman’s death, which occurred around 11 p.m. Tuesday.
The patrolman was identified by the coroner’s office as 39-year-old Timothy Mitchell.
He was described by reporter Jaime Chambers of KTLA’s sister station KSWB as a friend who was “unfathomably brave.”
A friend of mine died last night trying to save another persons life. He was a Catalina harbor patrol officer and he was unfathomably brave.
— Jaime Chambers (@jaimechambers) January 1, 2015
Avalon’s city Harbor Department employs 11 patrol officers who provide security and enforce laws at the harbor, according to the city’s website.
The other individual killed was a man who lived aboard a boat that was moored in the harbor, Berardi said.
The coroner’s office identified the boater as 53-year-old Bruce Ryder of Avalon.
Ryder died in a “water-related incident,” according to the coroner’s office, but it was not immediately clear if the two victims’ deaths were connected, county Department of Coroner Assistant Chief Ed Winter said. The patrolman’s death was “weather related,” Winter said.
“There were boats that had broken loose from their moorings,” Winter said. “There was a problem and he wound up overboard.”
Sheriff’s Department’s Special Enforcement Bureau divers found the patrolman’s body about 11 a.m. The other victim was pulled from the water after his body was reported at 6:30 a.m.
Four boats were beached, and a wall between the sand and Avalon’s harborfront sidewalk was damaged. Cleanup was continuing Wednesday afternoon.
Berardi said the Sheriff’s Department had no reports that any other boaters were unaccounted for. No boats were coming into the harbor Wednesday, city Harbor Department officials said.
Catalina resident Tom Quinn said he was sitting in Luau Larry’s, one of the bars that line the harbor, when everything unfolded very quickly Tuesday evening. The patrolman had been trying to save a dive vessel called the King Neptune, Quinn said.
“All of a sudden, the wind just came,” Quinn said. “Mayhem was happening out here. … Guys were dying.”
Quinn described the patrolman as a “very well loved” local man.
The other victim, Quinn said, was older and also an experienced sailor.
“Our thoughts are w/ the family friends of the Avalon Harbor Patrol Officer,” the county Fire Department’s Lifeguard Division said on Twitter. “Very sad news coming out of Catalina this morning #RIP.”
Late Wednesday morning, a procession of emergency vehicles could be seen escorting the patrolman’s body to the island’s heliport.
Debris and the wreckage of a small boat with an outboard motor washed against the rocks near the pier, and moored vessels continued to bob in choppy waters.
Correction: An earlier version of this report erroneously stated one victim’s title. The article has been updated.