2 killed during storm on Catalina Island

ByABC7.com staff and Greg Lee KABC logo
Thursday, January 1, 2015
2 killed during storm on Catalina Island
A Harbor Patrol officer and another person were killed overnight during windy conditions on Catalina Island, officials said.

CATALINA ISLAND (KABC) -- A Harbor Patrol officer and another person were killed overnight during windy conditions on Catalina Island, officials said.

According to the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, the Harbor Patrol officer, identified by coroner's officials as 39-year-old Timothy Mitchell, died near the Green Pleasure Pier after being pinned between a vessel and a rock around 11 p.m. Tuesday. High winds caused several boats to break loose and come ashore.

Some vessels collided with the beach, while others struck the sea wall, destroying them and leaving piles of debris everywhere.

John Etheridge, a Fountain Valley resident who owns property on the island, witnessed the incident. He told Eyewitness News that Mitchell was trying to save the King Neptune vessel when the officer was swept off the boat.

"When (the boat) hit the beach, it hit with a great deal of force and hit a couple of times and he was just thrown overboard," said Etheridge. "It was the most horrible thing I've ever seen."

According to Etheridge, a crowd of 30 to 40 people saw the incident from shore and frantically tried to save Mitchell, but they were unable to.

The news reached Mitchell's former mother-in-law, Jennifer Morris, Wednesday morning. She was already planning a trip to Avalon for the new year.

"I couldn't believe it at first. Being here now is making it harder. It's all become a reality," Morris said.

Around the same time and in the same general area, authorities found a houseboat owner, identified later by coroner's officials as 53-year-old Bruce Ryder, floating in the water. Ryder later died at a hospital.

"Unclear as to whether the force of the waves and the pitching of the boat caused him to fall off his boat or if he voluntarily jumped off his boat," said Sgt. Robert Berardi.

Los Angeles County fire officials said a search was underway for a third person who was reported missing, but sheriff's officials later said there were no active searches and that everyone was accounted for.

Etheridge said this was the worst storm he has ever seen on the island.

"There was no space in between the swells. It was just tearing boats off their mooring," he said.

Officials began to clean up the debris in the afternoon, while the tight-knit community prepared to start the new year in mourning.

"For them to experience a loss like this is going to take a toll. It's going to be a heartbreaker," Etheridge said.