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Officials Investigate Smuggling-Related Death On La Jolla Coast

San Diego Lifeguards and U.S. Border Patrol respond to a smuggling-related de...

Credit: OnScene.TV

Above: San Diego Lifeguards and U.S. Border Patrol respond to a smuggling-related death on La Jolla Shores, Nov 19, 2017.

Immigration officials are investigating a maritime smuggling incident tied to the death of an unknown man whose body was found on the La Jolla coast near Bird Rock at 12:53 a.m. on Sunday.

The man, who was not carrying any identification, appeared to be in his fifties and the cause of death was drowning, according to the San Diego County Medical Examiner.

His body was found after a panga-style boat carrying seven people was spotted off the coast by the Joint Harbor Operations Center of the U.S. Coast Guard, Customs and Border Protection and other agencies.

Another man, a 32-year-old Mexican national, was found suffering from hypothermia near that location by lifeguards who also requested assistance from Border Patrol. He was transferred to a nearby hospital for treatment and is now in Border Patrol's custody.

Border Patrol agent Tekae Michael said smuggling through the Pacific Ocean is increasingly common as it becomes harder to cross the border on land, with smugglers often dropping people off a few hundred yards from shore.

“Typically, smugglers do not give life vests or anything they’re able to use for floatation devices," she said. "They have complete disregard for human life and their goal is profit over the safety of the people.”

A KPBS and inewsource investigation, "America's Wall," found that apprehensions in the Pacific Ocean spiked in 2008 and 2009, during a period of record border fence construction. According to Border Patrol statistics, maritime deaths tied to smuggling in the San Diego sector total, on average, just over one a year since 2010. Most of them are drownings.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection said the person driving the boat is believed to have escaped to Mexico. The four other people on the boat are still missing.

A man's body was found along the La Jolla coast near Bird Rock after a panga-style boat commonly used for smuggling was spotted carrying seven people off the coast.

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