Loved ones of a man who drowned after he fell off a paddleboard earlier this week in Huntington Harbor were warning others of the 26-year-old's mistake of not wearing a life vest at the time of his death.
Jose Luis Mendoza, a 26-year-old resident of Lakewood, died Tuesday night after he fell off the stand-up paddleboard near the 16500 block of Channel Lane, according to Huntington Beach Fire Department. Mendoza did not know how to swim and was not wearing a personal flotation device.
"It just hurts so much," said Josh Saldana two days after the accident in a vigil in Lakewood.
Mendoza was paddleboarding with his brother on a rented board when he fell into the water. Rescuers contending with murky water conditions found Mendoza 25 minutes after arriving on the scene and pulled him from the harbor, fire authorities said. He was taken to the hospital in critical condition and was later pronounced dead.
Friends said Mendoza had just received his license to practice physical therapy.
"He was honestly the most genuine loving person ever. He could fill a room with laughter," Saldana said.
According to the U.S. Coast Guard, wearing a life vest is not required for paddleboarders out on enclosed bodies of water, such as personal swimming areas and harbors. Mendoza and his brother decided not to get life jackets.
But since Mendoza didn't know how to swim, devastated friends were angry at his decision and urged of the importance of wearing a life vest.
"I told them to wear a vest...and he didn't," said Heidi Kim, a friend. "...That was the dumbest mistake he ever made; that was the last mistake he ever made."
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A YouCaring fundraiser was set up to support Mendoza's funeral costs.