An 11-year-old junior lifeguard was fatally slashed by the propeller of a lifeguard boat piloted by a veteran marine safety officer during training outside the surfline of this famed beach, authorities said Wednesday.
Another lifeguard was in the boat and a third was in the water with the group of 20 to 25 youths when Allyssa Squirrell of Laguna Hills was struck Tuesday.
She died in surgery. An autopsy Wednesday concluded that she died of deep cuts to her back and her left leg, Orange County Sheriff's Department spokesman Jim Amormino said.
The boat was piloted by Lt. Greg Crow, 53, a 32-year veteran of the city of Huntington Beach Marine Safety Division who holds a public safety medal of valor, Amormino said.
Crow was traumatized by the accident and put on leave. He voluntarily submitted to a toxicology test that found no evidence of alcohol or drugs in his body, Amormino said.
Junior lifeguards left flowers, a candle, a pot filled with sand and shells and a pink dolphin-shaped balloon at the city's marine safety office Wednesday.
Noah Glass, 11, wore his training uniform of white T-shirt and red trunks when he came by with his father to place flowers.
"She was really nice and funny. We always played games together," he told KABC-TV.
An investigation being conducted by the sheriff's department will look into "policies, procedures, speed of the boat, every aspect of it," he said.
The youths were practicing so-called speed drops, a method of delivering a lifeguard by boat just outside the surfline to rapidly reach a swimmer in distress. The students stand in pairs on a platform at the rear of the boat, let go to fall backward into the water, and then swim back to the rest of the group to be picked up by the boat.
Allyssa and another girl jumped but were separate from the rest of the group when the accident occurred, Amormino and city spokeswoman Laurie Payne said.
The boat's pilot apparently didn't see the girls because they had not yet swum back to the main group and the seas were choppy, Amormino said.
Payne also said the water was choppy and the two girls were separate from the others but she did not know if Allyssa was run over by the boat or if the propeller struck her in some other way.
Allyssa was halfway through the eight-week program. Training was suspended Wednesday but was to resume Thursday. Payne said she did not believe the same boat drill would resume.
It was the first death in the 45-year history of the junior lifeguard program in Huntington Beach, a Southern California surfing mecca that bills itself as "Surf City USA."
According to the city Web site, the program teaches more than 1,000 junior lifeguards each year and has attracted students from across the nation and around the world. Payne said it is involved in an exchange program with New Zealand.
The city's regular lifeguards appeared in the recent TruTV reality series "Ocean Force: Huntington Beach."
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