Updated: Separate Tragedies Claim Two Lives

A swimmer identified by the coroner’s office as Brian Riggs, 52, of Mission Viejo, is carried to a helicopter on Thousand Steps Beach on Saturday, July 14. Photo courtesy LBPD
An unconscious swimmer who later died is carried to a helicopter on Thousand Steps Beach, one of two local fatalities on Saturday, July 14. Photo courtesy LBPD.

Two visitors to Laguna Beach died in separate tragedies last Saturday, July 14, the most deadly day in the city’s recent history.

Francisco Rojas, 27, of Murrieta, died from injuries suffered in a broadside collision on Coast Highway that also resulted in traumatic injuries to his three passengers as well as the solo driver of a second vehicle, authorities said.

Police arrested Marshall Glen Eichenauer Jr., 57, of Laguna Beach, for suspicion of misdemeanor drunk driving,pending review by prosecutors on a felony charge. Emergency personnel transported him and  passengers in Rojas’ vehicle to the Mission Hospital trauma center in Mission Viejo, fire Division Chief Api Weinert said.

Eichenauer was not listed as a hospital patient as of Monday, July 16.

The collision investigation is still underway,Sgt. Jim Cota said. In past instances involving traffic fatalities, the district attorney’s office has taken monthsto wrap up the collection of evidence and file charges.

Cota said Rojas’ vehicle made an illegal left turn about 8:55 p.m. from Country Club Drive and was broadsided by Eichenauer’s northbound Chevrolet Avalanche pickup.

The collision south of the entry drive to the Ranch resort led to the closure of Coast Highway for five hours, according to the police log.

Lifeguards assigned to Aliso Beach, the closest medically trained first responders, were the first to attempt to revive Rojas, who was trapped in the damaged car, said lifeguard Capt. Jason Young.

Firefighters used extrication tools to cut and spread the crushed cab of the sedan even as paramedics worked in the confined space to revive Rojas, who was in full arrest, Weinert said. The pick-up intruded from 12 to 24 inches into the sedan, Weinert estimated. Due to his condition, Rojas was transported to the nearest facility, Mission Hospital in Laguna Beach.

Earlier that morning, lifeguards also pulled an unconsciousness swimmer from the surf who was airlifted by helicopter from Thousand Steps Beach. The coroner’s office identified the drowning victim as Brian Riggs, 52, of Mission Viejo. An autopsy was scheduled to determine if a medical condition triggered the drowning, Supervising Deputy Coroner Larry Esslinger said.

About 10:45 a.m., a lifeguard spotted a swimmer outside the body surfing area and about 100 yards offshore who “looked like he was in distress,” Young said. After the lifeguard reached the swimmer, the victim lost consciousness and his rescuer signaled to shore by waving his arm of a life-threatening emergency, Young said.

A second lifeguard and Samaritans went into the water to assist bringing the victim through the heavy surf to shore, Young said. The victim was wearing a wetsuit and did not have any visible physical injuries, he said. The police log indicates the swimmer was airlifted from the beach by 11:25 a.m.

At midday, with an incoming tide and strong swell, lifeguards upgraded their assessment of surf conditions, posting red rather than yellow flags at South Laguna beaches, signaling hazardous conditions for all but expert swimmers.

“It was a historic day for our department,” Young said. The last fatalitythat occurred at Thousand Steps involved a Las Vegas teen swept from the rocks during high surf in 2015.

The driver arrested in the collision has had one earlier run-in with authorities, but of a different nature.

Last September, Eichenauer, an investment advisor, along with his advisory firm, settled a cease and desist orderwith the Securities and Exchange Commission, which alleged heused money invested in a fund he managed to finance loans for his personal benefit. Such an arrangement violated conflict of interest disclosure requirements. The settlement included a $165,000 penalty and $16,110 disgorgement to fund investors.

Eichenauer closed the fund in May 2016 during a compliance examination, according to the SEC order of Sept. 22, 2017.





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