Man who died after jumping off Huntington Beach Pier went in after sister struggled in ocean, witnesses say
Days after a man died jumping off the Huntington Beach Pier, reportedly going after his sister who’d jumped moments before, those who witnessed Sunday’s incident are providing a clearer picture of what happened in the moments before tragedy struck.
The Orange County coroner’s office identified the man as Fenton Auston Dee III, 44, of Norwalk.
Dee was on the pier shortly before 6:30 p.m. with a 36-year-old woman witnesses saw hanging on to the outside edge of the pier’s railing minutes before she jumped into the choppy water below.
Edmundo Alarcon, of Hollywood, said he’d been at the pier to watch the sunset with a friend and was walking back from the end when he saw a woman standing on the outside of the railing, engaged in conversation with a man who appeared to be with her.
“It looked like she just wanted to jump for fun, like she wanted to do it and then she didn’t,” Alarcon said Monday, indicating at one point, the woman was hanging on to the pier by one arm. “You can tell he didn’t want to [jump]. I don’t know if he was trying to stop her.”
Spectators cheered after the woman jumped and resurfaced seconds later, according to a video taken by Alarcon. But then she began to struggle. Surfers approached her and appeared to be offering assistance, when Dee jumped into the water.
“It looked like she was struggling at first, so I think he just made a decision he was going to help her,” Alarcon surmised.
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Down below, Huntington Beach resident and longtime surfer Landon Holman — an experienced swimmer who’d been trained and worked as a pool lifeguard — was among a few who braved Sunday’s intense surf conditions.
The currents were strong, and waves reached up to 8 feet in height, the 27-year-old recalled Tuesday. That’s why he’d been startled to see the woman on the brink of jumping.
“They yelled down to us, ‘Hey, is it OK if we jump? Will we get in trouble?’” he said, recounting how he warned them it was illegal and dangerous. “Unfortunately, there were other surfers in the water who were instigating them.”
The woman, who later identified herself to Holman as “Heather,” Dee’s sister, began removing some articles of clothing and then, after losing her nerve a time or two and slipping at one point, she jumped. Shortly afterward, Dee jumped over the railing, according to Holman.
“They were both screaming frantically for help,” Holman said. “I got there pretty quickly — they were both grasping onto my board. There was no way I was going to be able to save them both.”
A second surfer approached Dee, while Holman took Heather to shore, instructing her to hold her breath as they were pummeled by waves and pulled by the currents. As soon as she was safe on land, he went back out to assist the other surfer, who’d become separated from Dee.
“When we got to him in the water, he was unresponsive,” he said. “As we were pulling him onto the beach, I was yelling at people to call 911. I checked for a pulse, and he didn’t have one.”
Holman said he performed CPR until paramedics arrived, but it was too late. Huntington Beach spokeswoman Jennifer Carey said the city’s Marine Safety and fire crews attempted to treat Dee and transported him to Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian, where he was declared dead.
“We don’t believe there to be any foul play, but we’re obviously going to talk to those who may have seen something,” she said Monday.
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Given the reported tidal conditions at the time of the incident, Huntington Beach Marine Safety Division Chief Eric Dieterman estimated it was more than a 40-foot drop from the pier to the water for the jumpers.
“The ocean conditions are constantly changing based on tides, surf conditions and time of the year,” Dieterman said in a statement Monday. “Due to these changing conditions, and the 40- to 45-foot pier height, pier jumping is prohibited.”
Following Sunday’s incident, Holman is not seeking hero status.
“I just want people to be aware of how dangerous the ocean can be,” he said. “If you notice there are big waves and heavy surf, and you’re not used to the ocean, I’d highly advise you not to go in it.”
The beach is closed up to 100 yards from Ballona Creek after the discharge of 1,200 gallons of sewage. It will stay closed at least until Wednesday.
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