Southern California's first winter storm pounded the region Wednesday as intermittent showers triggered a fatal accident in which three people died and towering surf destroyed 420 feet of the landmark Ventura Pier--formerly the longest wooden pier in the state.
The storm pummeled the area one day after heavy rains and winds of more than 100 mph were blamed for five deaths and widespread damage in Northern California.
In Ventura County, a woman, her 2-month-old daughter and the baby's aunt were killed instantly Wednesday when their compact car veered into the path of a tractor-trailer near Camarillo. Maribel Ramirez, 22, apparently lost control of the vehicle on a rain-slicked curve, according to witnesses.
Ramirez, of Oxnard, her infant daughter, Deseree, and Marisela Coronado, 23, of Somis, were pronounced dead at the scene, coroner's officials said. The three were traveling from the Moorpark home of the baby's father to Oxnard to pick up Ramirez's mother for a day of Christmas shopping.
When they failed to arrive in Oxnard, the baby's father, Ricardo Coronado, drove out to search along their route. When he arrived at the accident site and realized his child, her mother and his sister were in the car, he broke down and had to be restrained by emergency personnel. He was led from the scene, taken home and counseled by a chaplain and a county mental health crisis team, official said.
In Ventura, high seas and debris forced a tall ship to seek emergency mooring, led to the closure of San Buenaventura State Beach, caused numerous injuries and resulted in a desperate late-night search for a missing surfer.
Jaren Coler, 16, of Camarillo, disappeared in the choppy seas off Faria Beach north of Ventura on Tuesday evening, one of many surfers braving the unruly waters to ride the big waves. As his friends watched in horror, a rip current pulled Coler away from the beach. They soon lost sight of him.
"It was getting darker and darker and we could hardly see him," said Chris Cohea, 17, of Camarillo. He and another friend called 911.
For 10 harrowing hours, the teenager straddled his surfboard while the Coast Guard and the Ventura County Sheriff's Department scoured the ocean for him late into the night. They came up empty-handed. "The kid said we passed him once or twice," said Petty Officer Brian Elliot of the Coast Guard in Oxnard. "It was very dark out and stormy. Someone in a black wetsuit is hard to see."
Coler was eventually able to reach shore on his own about 2:30 a.m Wednesday, shivering and sleepy, suffering from early signs of hypothermia.
"I don't think I'll ever go out in waves like that again," Coler said Wednesday from his home, where he was recovering with his family from his long night at sea.
The 122-year-old Ventura Pier, renovated in 1993 for $3.5 million, had just opened this spring after a $500,000 reconstruction necessitated by last January's storms. City officials estimated Wednesday's damage would cost more than $1.5 million to repair.
Despite the recent history of expensive repairs, Ventura leaders said Wednesday that the 1,958-foot-long pier, one of the city's top tourist attractions, will be rebuilt.
"It is such a valuable asset to this city," Ventura Mayor Jack Tingstrom said. "We will just have to find a stronger way to build it."
While engineers and Ventura officials were inspecting the damage Wednesday, large wooden pilings that had washed ashore slammed into a city worker trying to pull them from the water. He suffered minor injuries.
Shredded wood jutted out at the spot where the pier's end was ripped away, and loose pilings swung over the waves from a collapsed 40-foot section. At least 22 horizontal support beams and 150 pilings were washed away, city officials said.
About half a mile down the beach, clumps of broken pilings and beams littered the sand like enormous stacks of firewood. In at least two places, whole sections of the pier had washed ashore.
An $80,000 sculpture of a wave's spout that had stood at the pier's end washed ashore in two pieces amid a pile of rubble. City officials rescued it and said they plan to place it back on the pier after repairs.
Pilings were found floating at the Channel Islands Harbor in Oxnard and along the Ventura County coast. State officials closed San Buenaventura State Beach just north of the pier, and the southern Ventura coastline from the pier to Marina Park.
The Hawaiian Chieftain, a 100-foot replica of a 1790s cargo vessel, was sailing to Ventura Harbor from Morro Bay on Tuesday night when it encountered stiff winds and powerful waves. The crew endured a long and difficult night at sea, said Ian McIntyre, the ship's captain.
"It was pretty dramatic to be out there during those swells," McIntyre said.
The Hawaiian Chieftain radioed the Port of Hueneme, a commercial harbor, and was granted refuge Wednesday morning. It will try to enter Ventura Harbor today, McIntyre said.