February 2010 home page


A Boatload of People
Virginia Lawrence | Caminito Del Rocio


Photos Virginia Lawrence

Searchlights sweeping beach, road, and lagoon

My neighbors were woken by the sirens at 4:30am and observed the massive buildup of emergency vehicles converging along the Torrey Pines Beach from three directions. But I didn’t realize anything was going on until I wandered out to the kitchen for a second cup of coffee around 4:45. It was Saturday, January 16, and I had been up for half an hour working in the office, which does not face the ocean.

The light show began at 4:30am.

By the time I had my first look, the entire causeway along the Torrey Pines Beach was filled with emergency vehicles, a quarter-mile chain of flashing lights. (More than 100 firefighters, lifeguards and law enforcement officers from numerous agencies had responded.) At least two helicopters hovered overhead, searchlights sweeping roadway, beach, and lagoon.

The Torrey Pines Reserve had also attracted scrutiny. Half a dozen emergency vehicles had parked along the road that leads up from the beach, and another helicopter was flooding the trails with light.

At 5:30, overcome with curiosity, I decided to walk down to the Torrey Pines parking lot just to see. At the stop lights a police car approached. The officer told me I’d better not go into the park. He said a boatful of “illegals” had capsized, that two had drowned, and that the others were “all over the place.” Going home right away suddenly seemed like a good idea.

By 6am the floodlights on the Reserve had been extinguished, but otherwise emergency crews remained on the job.

Emergency crews remained on the job.

At 7am, feeling braver and armed with a camera, I went back, and at the southern end of the causeway I joined a whole lot of other folks plus a television crew from KUSI. We learned a boat of uninvited visitors had capsized in the surf dumping 23 passengers into the water. A helicopter on a routine mission noticed an overturned boat at the edge of the beach (still there, still overturned) and 29 life vests strewn across the sand. When emergency crews arrived they found people all over the place, as the policeman had said, several in the water. Nine were judged in good enough condition to be turned over to the Border Patrol; 6 others had been sent to the hospital where one died an hour later. The remaining 8 or 10 were presumably on the run, perhaps in the Reserve or in the Lagoon. Survival in the ocean did not seem possible; the air was 45 degrees, the surf was high, and there was a nippy little breeze.

 A boat had capsized in the surf dumping 23 passengers into the water.


Good Morning, San Diego.

As reported in the New York Times

The New York Times
Published: January 29, 2010

Two Charged in Deaths of Immigrants at Sea


LOS ANGELES — Two Mexican men have been indicted on federal charges arising from the deaths of two people who drowned this month when a boat overloaded with migrants capsized off the San Diego coast, the first known fatalities in a recent spate of maritime smuggling.

Read the full artcle here.


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