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Autopsy reveals drowning death off Montana de Oro

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Moreno Valley is a hot place to be in the summertime. It's on Highway 50 between Riverside and Palm Springs, nearly 300 miles from the Pacific Ocean off the Central Coast. Last Friday, at about 3:30 in the afternoon, 17-year-old Melissa Kaitlin Brace and two of her friends took advantage of their visit here and decided to swim in the inviting but very icy waters off of Montana de Oro State Park. None was wearing a wetsuit. The cold proved too much for two of the girls, who came ashore and waited for their friend to do the same. They didn't know she was being carried out to sea by rip currents.

Brace and her friends had been horseback riding, which allowed them easier access to a remote part of the park where swimmers rarely go because it's a 30-minute hike on foot.

"People ride there all the time, but I've never known somebody to get off a horse and go jump in the ocean," said Morro Bay Park Ranger Ray Smith. "It's the first time I've seen it."

When Brace didn't respond to calls to come in, some nearby surfers paddled 100 yards out to where she was and found her floating face down in the water. Attempts to revive her by CPR were unsuccessful, and by the time she got to French Hospital by helicopter she was pronounced dead. Autopsy reports have confirmed that Brace died by drowning.

Smith said at the time it didn't appear that Brace was in any kind of trouble. Her friends got tired of waiting and they then enlisted the help of the surfers. As long as he can remember, Smith can't recall a drowning near the sand spit where the trio was swimming. It's just too cold, too remote, and the terrain is rough.

Brace's drowning is the second off the Central Coast this year. Thomas O'Sullivan drowned off the shores of Cambria this past February.

-K.H.

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