Authorities are investigating the death of local surfer Gordon Alan Jennell, 48, after his body washed ashore near Arroyo Burro Beach on Thursday displaying no apparent signs of injury.
Days after officers pulled his body from the water, the Santa Barbara Police Department said the cause of Jennell’s death still remains unknown. Investigators at the scene found no evidence of foul play or physical trauma and are now waiting for toxicology reports to determine how he died, which SBPD said may take the Sheriff’s Dept. Coroner’s Office weeks to resolve.
Police were alerted to the event after receiving an anonymous phone call Thursday afternoon reporting that a wetsuit-clad body had washed onto the beach. SBPD Lieutenant Paul McCaffrey said the caller was the first person to reach Jennell.
“The people who called in had found the body in the surf face down, and then pulled the body out,” McCaffrey said.
Officers were initially unable to identify the body, but a search of the area later in the day revealed a 2004 Ford Ranger left unlocked near Mesa Steps above the beach. A wallet with identification found inside the vehicle matched the body, allowing authorities to contact the Jennell family.
Police received second-hand reports of an abandoned surfboard in the water around 10 a.m. that day, but a police officer sent to the scene found no one in need of help. A 9-foot surfboard was recovered the day after Jennell’s body was found, which SBPD believes may be the board seen floating the previous day.
“We responded to the call, but at that time we did not find the board or anyone in distress,” McCaffrey said.
Though police are unsure about the circumstances surrounding the death, reports received by authorities hours before Jennell’s body washed ashore suggest the accident may have happened that morning.
McCaffrey said the beach where Jennell died is known to have rocks beneath the water but it is unlikely that Jennell’s death was caused by the rocks or any similar trauma.
“There were no visible injuries or trauma and there was no indication that hitting a rock contributed to his death,” McCaffrey said.
McCaffrey also speculated a pre-existing medical condition could have contributed to Jennell’s death.
According to his family, Jennell was a habitual surfer. His board did have a leash — a lanyard used to connect a surfer’s ankle to the board — however, it is not known how he became separated from it.
McCaffrey said Jennell’s case is unusual and that the department rarely sees local surfers lose their lives.
“It’s not too common in the Santa Barbara shoreline for a surfer to drown,” McCaffrey said.