With three cliff-jumping deaths linked at Lake Havasu’s Copper Canyon and it popular Jump Rock or surrounding cliffs, a review of the individual autopsies suggests taking the plunge may be at one’s own risk – especially while high on drugs or alcohol.

Two of the autopsies were processed San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department because the individuals were determined deceased on or near the scene, which is situated on the California shore of Lake Havasu. The third victim was transported to a hospital in Lake Havasu City where he later died and later processed by Mohave County’s medical examiner.

In all three cases, alcohol was present. In one of the three, so were cocaine and benzodiazepines.

Sgt. Tim Smith, of SBCSD, has been patrolling Lake Havasu for 16 years.

“We don’t see a lot of injuries, but the ones we do are major injuries of fatalities,” Smith said on Sunday. “It can be hazardous. Generally injuries are strictly within the water. It knocks them out of breath (when they jump) … we don’t have the numbers we have on the water that we did in the past. And the exclusion zone, or safety lanes, has helped (with rescue efforts).”


On Aug. 30, 2009, 43-year-old John K. Kissel, of Huntington Beach, Calif., attempted to jump into Lake Havasu from a 200-foot cliff at Copper Canyon about 4:30 p.m.

According to a SBCSD coroner autopsy reports, Kissel missed the water by about one foot. Authorities pronounced Kissel dead at the scene at 5:05 p.m. that day.

The autopsy showed he died of multiple blunt force injuries to his neck, collar bone, ribs, pelvis, and right elbow, and compound fractures of both lower legs, and his left ankle and foot. Kissel also was teeth broken and missing from his right side.

Kissel’s friends, who witnessed the jump, told authorities “Kissel was known as the wild one. Once he got his mind set on something, there was no stopping him. (Kissel) told friends before coming to Lake Havasu that he had jumped off the rock 19 years ago and he was going to do it again”, according to the report.

Kissel’s friends tried to dissuade him from the jump but to no avail. After consuming five or six beers, Kissel climbed to the top of the rock and jumped.

According to autopsy toxicology reports, Kissel’s blood alcohol content to be .12 percent at time of death. The toxicology also determined Kissel tested positive for cocaine and benzos, which is a sedative often used to treat sleep or anxiety disorders.

The rock is described as 200-feet tall with a 14-foot set back from the water’s edge. Eyewitnesses said they saw Kissel’s legs fold up beneath him. He bounced up, hit his head and landed in the water.

Kissel was wearing black swim trunks and white tennis shoes at the time of his death. He died within seconds of impact, according to the autopsy.

A SBCSD deputy who witnessed the accident responded and pulled Kissel from the water and noted Kissel was dead.

According to earlier news reports, Kissel was a retired pro-surfer who has been featured in Sports Illustrated, according to two family friends who contacted the Today’s News-Herald following news of his death.


On Aug. 22, 2011, 40-year-old Dennis M. Vanderwalker, of Chino, Calif., jumped from Jump Rock about 3:26 p.m. and later died.

According to SBCSD coroner autopsy reports, Vanderwalker jumped after two of his friends successfully made the jump. In his own attempt, Vanderwalker reportedly hit the surface of the water while slightly tilted backward and a loud slapping sound was heard.

Vanderwalker didn’t immediately surface, and friends soon noticed him floating face down in the water. They tried to retrieve him, but he soon sank from their reach.

A SBCSD deputy/rescue diver arrived at 3:46 p.m. and recovered Vanderwalker from a depth of 27-feet, or the Lake’s bottom.

Emergency responders attempted cardiopulmonary resuscitation measures on Vanderwalker but to no avail. He was pronounced dead by medics after arriving at Contact Point shortly before 4 p.m.

Autopsy reports stated Vanderwalker’s cause of death was drowning, which occurred within minutes. Contributing causes were blunt head injury and ethanol intoxication.

Toxicology reports determined Vanderwalker’s blood alcohol content to be within the range of .17 to .21 percent at the time of his death.

Vanderwalker was wearing dark blue shorts and yellow boxer shorts at the time of his death. Vanderwalker’s girlfriend, Julie, witnessed the accident and identified Vanderwalker to authorities during initial investigations. Other investigations determined Vanderwalker had consumed about seven or eight beers that day and he had had pizza for lunch.


On Sept. 3, 2011, 28-year-old Joshua Lafollette, of Henderson, Nev., jumped into Lake Havasu from Jump Rock about 5:21 p.m. and didn’t immediately resurface.

According to earlier reports, a bystander clad in scuba gear dove beneath the water’s surface and retrieved him. Lafollette was put onto a boat and life-saving measures were attempted. He ultimately was transported to a Havasu-based hospital where he was pronounced dead about 6 p.m.

According to a Mohave County Medical Examiner autopsy report, Lafollette died by asphyxia due to drowning after jumping from a 60-foot cliff. He also had deep muscle contusion on his right upper left measuring 11 inches by six inches, another on his right hip measured three inches by five inches.

The report also stated Lafollette had multiple abrasions on his extremities including on his head, upper arm, left shin, right foot and toe were noted. Other contusions, smaller in size were noted beneath his buttocks on his right upper leg and multiple small purple contusions on the back of the same leg.

A toxicology report determined Lafollette’s blood alcohol content to be .15 percent at time of arrest.

You may contact the reporter at jhanson@havasunews.com.

(16) comments


A toxicology report determined Lafollette’s blood alcohol content to be .15 percent at time of arrest.Wow they even arrest you when you are dead. I hope he didn't put up a fight and at least they don't have to worry about him escaping. I wonder if they still used cuffs. I guess that is why the jail smells so foul.


Shame on the News Herald for publishing this with out consenting the families first. As if the first time reading it wasn't tragic enough, reading it again and having all of those awful memories and remorse brought up again should be. This article could have been easily written to spare the families feelings.


Kid's stay off the rock. No testosaron is worth dying. Unless you are USMC.


As sad as these stories are, what makes them even more difficult to read is the horrible grammar and punctuation. Does nobody proofread anymore? Spellcheck and/or grammar check do not cover everything. People, please read what you write before it is published.


Will anyone learn from this?


Another low i.q. post from schoolgrades. Why am I not surprised?


"Havasu Stupid" is real. It is contagious. It is insidious. It is deadly. It is not treatable. It is city wide. Side effects include, but are not limited to, drowning, violence, domestic abuse, gun play, drinking and driving and crashing into a variety of vehicles/ditches/sign posts/houses/businesses, the Acoma senior center crosswalk "thing", bump outs, believing major industry will arrive, believing sewers are a good thing, believing most residents are not "trapped", believing there are fish in the lake, thinking we have a mall, prefixing nearly every business name in town with"hava" this and that, crowing about new businesses coming to town that are for the desperately poor, thinking Blazo is funny, thinking the ghetto by the bridge is a village, complaining about snowbirds not realizing they think we are the dumbest bunch of hicks they have ever had the misfortune to stumble across, having some city employee actually quoted in the newspaper about the " World Famous London Bridge" saying pieces fall off every now and then, dog parks, R/UDAT, the industrial park by the airport, a racetrack, boasting about how every chicken little event "brings big money into this city". Stay indoors fellow citizens. Wash your hands. Order books and read them. Fight "Havasu Stupid".

Local CFI

Coolbridge, that was funny, I don't care who you are! Now that it's out there, maybe it can be fixed. Remember, the first step in fixing a problem is admitting that there is one!


Right on coolbridge! Havasu truly is "Home of the InBreeder's"


The children that jump are mostly boy's, we all know how stupid we can be at that age. They don't read local papers, while sober, to understand the gravity of their jumps, no pun intended. Boy's just being boy's..........the USMC and ARMY have got it down to telling the recurits when to SSShave. Their brain's are not yet developed.


Coolbridge for President!


Tell me Blazo since you think you are so brilliant; how do you arrest a dead person? He was pronounced dead and then the police arrested him. Don't you see the editor did not read or correct the article. You do know that we truly love your postings; it entertains us to no end LMAO.


My condolences to those families.I agree with lapdpilot. Just boys being boys.It's mainly a male thing, which is by nature, to show off to attract the opposite sex. Anyone that disagrees, is just in denial of the fact that the male of every species does this in same form or another. Humans are just the dumbest of the lot, big trucks, big boats, recklessness.


My beloved son died there 5/25/03. I will never be the same. Before you jump think of those who love you


BrightOne, I emphatically disagree with your analysis. If anyone is in denial, IT IS YOU! The three MEN who died were NOT 'just boys being boys'. were men with blood alcohol levels twice the legal limit to be arrested for DUI. They made life or death decisions with their awareness of their surroundings - a rock cliff 60' above the water -
impaired by alcohol and died as a result.
Saying 'boys will be boys' serves only one purpose - denial and it is not a particularly flattering color on you.


WoW accidents happen everywhere and to everyone, Especially when you put yourself in that type of predicament. I have been going to lake havasu since I was 17 and I've jumped off the highest rock at Copper Canyon twice now, the second to lowest rock I've jumped off too many times to count and look forward to doing it every season, and perfecting my technique every time I CHOOSE to jump off the highest rock at Copper Canyon. Oh yah and I'm a female and 28 and choose to drink on my vacation (from north county) out there on the water and so forth. So I guess that blows everybody's assumption of testosterone and boys just doing it or having to be in the US Marines. Don't be so closed minded or harsh to others CHOICES especially
when a tragic accident has happened. And all and all that's what it was, an accident to those men/boys choices in Copper Canyon. It doesn't make Lake Havasu an evil place at all. My condolences to all those that have lost someone to water sport accidents including jumping off rocks weather that be Copper Canyon or some other place in the world. One love...

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.