Elliot Blair, Orange County deputy public defender who died in Mexico, remembered for his generosity
Elliot Blair loved to help people. The 33-year-old Orange County public defender often stayed late at work to speak with his clients, people accused of crimes who could not afford to hire a lawyer.
“If he wasn’t in trial, he was advocating for his clients,” said Annie Rodriguez, a co-worker and friend. “Judges and attorneys would be wondering where he was. And he was just outside in the hallway talking to his clients ... listening to them.”
On Saturday, friends and family gathered at Christ Cathedral in Garden Grove to celebrate Blair’s life. The young lawyer died in January under mysterious circumstances at a resort in Rosarito, Mexico, while celebrating his first wedding anniversary with his wife, Kimberly Williams.
Blair was remembered as a person who was moved to act whenever someone needed help.
When his mother recently told him she was having trouble coping with the death of his father in 2020, Blair went to work. He found several support groups near her home and arranged for her to attend a meeting.
Blair and his wife would be in Mexico at that time.
“I found it so uplifting to share my story in the support group,” Stella Blair said during her son’s memorial service, attended by hundreds of friends and family members. “Well, after that class on Friday, I fell asleep so soundly. I was just lost in comfort.”
But a few hours later, on Saturday, Jan. 14, she received a call that her son was found dead at the resort he and his wife were staying at in Rosarito, a coastal town about 20 miles south of the border.
Mexican authorities have said Blair’s death was the result of an accidental fall from his hotel balcony, but his family has insisted that it was the result of a “brutal crime” and have hired private investigators.
The circumstances surrounding Blair’s death have stunned family and friends.
“It’s just so unreal,” Rabecca Gomez, Blair’s second cousin, said at Saturday’s memorial. “He was always my defender.”
Craig Williams, Blair’s father-in-law, recalled going on trips with his wife, Janet, his daughter and son-in-law. But he also remembered how Blair would come home late from work. Williams would ask him why he was working so hard.
“He would always tell me it was important for him to do the best job for his clients. He was truly a dedicated public servant,” Williams said, his voice choking with emotion.
Family members said Blair and his late father, Tom, loved to work on Volkswagen Beetles and how the two built a 1966 blue Baja Bug.
His sister, Candace Wilson, who was 15 years older and also drove a VW Bug, recalled feeling like a second mom to her younger brother as she drove him around to his sports practices or tutoring classes.
As a child, Blair would sit in the front seat with her and pretend to shift the car’s gears, she said. Eventually, his father would teach him how to drive a stick shift.
“I like to think that I at least gave Elliot some of that experience,” Wilson said.
Friends said that Blair always felt safe in Baja, describing it as both a “safe haven” and his “happy place.”
Blair and Kimberly Williams, who met as colleagues in the Orange County Public Defender’s Office, spent their honeymoon in 2022 at the Las Rocas Resort and Spa in Rosarito. They decided to return last month on their first anniversary.
On the day he died, Blair was found splayed on the ground, three floors below the couple’s room in his underwear, a sleeping T-shirt and socks.
In an interview this week with ABC News’ “Good Morning America,” Williams said she did not believe her husband’s death was an accident.
“Someone did this to him,” said Williams.
She said the couple were driving back to the resort on the night of Jan. 13 after dinner at a local restaurant when they were stopped by police, who claimed the couple drove through a stop sign. The officers asked for money, she said.
Blair, who was fluent in Spanish, explained they didn’t have the amount of cash police wanted. Another officer asked where the couple was staying, and Blair said Las Rocas, that they were on vacation, Williams said.
Blair said that the couple were both attorneys and showed the police his work badge. Eventually, they gave the officers $160 — all the cash they had — and were let go, she said.
“We were both rattled,” Williams said, “but at the same time we both had this feeling of thank God they didn’t do anything more to us.”
Back at the resort, the couple went to the lobby bar, where they danced before going up to their room. Williams got into bed, and Blair took a shower, she said, adding that she eventually fell asleep.
She was later woken by the hotel manager and a security guard who alerted her about what had happened, pointing to Blair’s body on the ground below.
“That was my Elliot down there,” Williams said through tears. “I just kept yelling at them to call an ambulance. They said an ambulance came an hour ago.”
The couple had been staying in a room on the hotel’s third floor, which was 20 to 25 feet above the ground, the family’s lawyer, Case Barnett, said.
In a previous interview, Barnett told The Times that a plainclothes police detective who was wearing a badge told Williams at the scene that Blair had a bullet wound in his head.
Williams told ABC News on Thursday that Mexican authorities described Blair’s death as either an “accident” or a “suicide.” Williams acknowledged Blair had five or six drinks the night before, but that she had never seen him become so intoxicated that he couldn’t “care for himself.”
Mexican authorities attributed Blair’s death to an accidental fall from the hotel’s outdoor walkway. An autopsy conducted by the state’s medical examiner ruled that Blair died of a traumatic brain injury. The report did not indicate visible injuries consistent with a firearm or sharp weapon.
The investigation remains open.
Blair’s body was returned to the U.S. at the end of January.
On Thursday, Barnett said an autopsy report produced in Mexico and dated Jan. 14 characterized Blair’s death as an “aggravated homicide.”
The family hired Dr. Rami Hashish, a biomechanical expert, to review images included in the report, which showed bruising on Blair’s arms and legs, “road rash” on Blair’s knees, an injury to his left toe and about 40 fractures in the back of his skull, Barnett said.
While it remains unclear what happened to Blair before he died, his mother wants the world to remember her son by paying forward his generosity and kindness.
“When you needed help, or needed some uplifting with his mischievous sense of humor, he would stop and really connect with people, and he was letting you know he cared,” Stella Blair said. “One drop of water is one drop of water. Hundreds of drops of water can change the world. I ask that we remember that and we share that so we can make a difference in this world and in people’s lives.”
Times staff writers Alexandra Petri and Terry Castleman contributed to this report.
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