Statue Honors Lifeguard Who Died on Duty in Newport Beach

Ben Carlson was killed two years ago while in the water rescuing a struggling swimmer.

A 9-foot steel statue honoring a Newport beach lifeguard who died while trying to rescue a swimmer was unveiled near the Newport Pier this week.

Bagpipes crescendoed and dozens cheered as a sheet was pulled off the statue, which depicts a muscled figure looking over the water. It honors Ben Carlson, who was swept away by a wave two years ago when he jumped in to save a distressed swimmer.

"He has taught us to respect the ocean and its powers more so than ever," said Newport Beach lifeguard Capt. Rob Williams at the unveiling. "Having this statue out here will only bring more knowledge to the public."

Carlson was 32 when he died, and had worked 15 years for the Newport Beach Lifeguards. The statue was designed by Jake Janz, Carlson's brother-in-law, and funded by the Ben Carlson Memorial & Scholarship foundation.

At the unveiling, speakers recalled Carlson's expertise as a lifeguard, as well as his taste for jalapeño and pineapple pizza.

Skeeter Leeper, also a lifeguard and board member, said Carlson would probably be "laughing and pointing at all of us hysterically" if he could be there to watch the unveiling.

Carlson's family and fellow lifeguards also spoke about the foundation's other work. It has so far given out five scholarships valued at more than $40,000. It is also working on various projects to educate people on ocean water safety.

Carlson was the first Newport Beach lifeguard to die in the line of duty. Shortly after his death he was awarded the Medal of Valor. The statue is located near the lifeguard headquarters that were named after him last year.

"Ben and all of us for lifeguards for life," Williams said. "And in this case, lifeguards forever."

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