Confronted with a situation omitted from routine training, O.C. Lifeguards improvised their own rescue procedure on Sunday, July 14 when a young deer tumbled from the surf below one of Laguna Beach’s most isolated but popular coves.
Lifeguards physically restrained the animal, laying their hands on the exhausted, shivering deer for nearly two hours until after 9 p.m. when game wardens arrived. The guards received an assist from Kent Combs, better known as a local physician, who lives nearby and rides horses as one of his many hobbies.
Combs roped the buck’s tiny antlers and tied up its spindly legs, allowing the guards to hold down the animal, according to his wife, Laura Combs. “This wasn’t in basic training,” she said, praising the four guards, clad only in swim trunks, which stayed with the animal until after nightfall.
Wardens eventually arrived from the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, who tranquilized the deer and released it to Crystal Cove State Park, said department spokesman Andrew Hughan in Sacramento. Two off-duty marines relaxing at the beach helped the two wardens carry the 140-pound buck up Thousand Steps Beach, so named for its 200 plus steps.
Laguna’s animal control officers were unavailable, police Sgt. Louise Callus said.
“Our primary objective is to keep people safe,” said lifeguard Chief Jason Young, in explaining the actions of the guards, who left once wardens arrived. He declined to identify them. “The fear was it could do someone harm,” said Young, who recalls only three or four similar instances of deer making their way onto county beaches in his 24-year career. “Deers are great swimmers,” he said.
Apparently. This one likely swam nearly two miles before returning to land.
Coincidentally, the Combs’ daughter, Kameron, a hostess at Montage’s Studio restaurant, texted her mom around 5 p.m. about spotting a deer that jumped from the resort’s blufftop park and began swimming out to sea. She feared it had drowned.
A lifeguard guarding at Montage’s Treasure Island Beach swam after the deer, but retreated back to shore after following the animal about 250 yards when it continued out to sea, said Laguna Beach marine safety officer Ryan Winfield.
“People freak out if you don’t do anything,” said Winfield, in explaining the guard’s actions. His intention would be to redirect the animal towards a safe entry, such as Aliso Creek and the coastal wilderness park beyond, Winfield said.
Shortly before the deer made landfall, guards at Thousand Steps Beach swam out to investigate why a small private boat was circling close to shore and discovered something unusual swimming towards ashore, Young said. “The deer swam itself onto the beach,” he said.
“The little boat herded the deer in,” observed Mrs. Combs, who described the cove as crowded with sun-bathers and posted with a yellow flag due to three to four foot surf.
The guards took action to both prevent the deer from retreating back into the ocean or getting loose on the beach, she said, even as they called for help and laughed about the situation. “They were a great group of kids.”
“It’s a happy ending for everybody,” wildlife spokesman Hughan said.