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.
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