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3 who died off Point Mugu are ID'd

Two brothers and a friend, all of Oxnard, were at water's edge when a wave pulled them into the ocean.

November 29, 2008|Molly Hennessy-Fiske | Hennessy-Fiske is a Times staff writer

Authorities Friday identified three young men who were swept to their deaths off Point Mugu on Thanksgiving Day after a wave pulled them and two companions into the water.

The victims were identified as brothers Marcello Ramos Vasquez, 17, and Catalino Ramos Vasquez, 19, and their friend Pedro Avila Ramos, 22, all of Oxnard, said Shasta Gainer, a Ventura County deputy medical examiner.

The three were standing with two friends at the water's edge on the landmark Mugu Rock, taking photographs of the ocean about 1:50 p.m. Thursday, when they became nervous, Gainer said.

"They saw that the waves were strong, and they realized that it was dangerous, so they attempted to make their way back from the water lines," said Gainer, who interviewed one of the survivors. "A big wave came, and he told me all of them got knocked in the water and he told me he was lifted up by a swell and grabbed on to a rock."

Gainer, who also interviewed relatives of the three dead people, said it was not clear whether any of them could swim, if they hit the rocks or were otherwise injured before they drowned.

"It's very rocky. So it's not outside the realm of possibility that they hit their head on a rock," Gainer said.

The two survivors managed to haul themselves out of the water and shout for help, and a passerby dived into the choppy ocean to try to save the three, said Senior Sheriff's Deputy Julie Novak.

Kathryn Barrona said she took off her shoes and jumped into the chilly water when she saw one of the men floating face-down. She managed to haul him back against the current and crashing waves, but he was already dead.

"It was really bad," said Barrona, 24, who had been sitting with her sister on the rocks when she realized the men were in trouble. "I couldn't tell you how cold the water was. I didn't realize how bad the current was."

Barrona said the waves and current smashed her against the rocks. She felt exhausted by the time she reached land. She threw up and then noticed that another man was in the water, but she was unable to go back out. A sheriff's helicopter searched for the remaining two and recovered their bodies.

The area, a popular destination for fishing, climbing and sightseeing, has long been known for its danger as well as for its beauty. Earlier this year, high waves swept a 16-year-old boy off the rock as he was fishing with relatives.

Novak said the wave that struck the men was about 3 feet high but that the area's surf can be deceivingly powerful.

She said all five of the men lived together in Oxnard.

All five were originally from Santiago la Chivia, a village in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca, Gainer said.

Autopsies were performed on the Vasquez brothers Friday; Avila's autopsy is scheduled for today, Gainer said. No funeral arrangements have been made, she said.

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molly.hennessy-fiske@latimes.com

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Times staff writer Jack Leonard contributed to this report.

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