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N. California community mourns family swept to sea

Associated Press Modified: November 26, 2012 at 7:00 pm •  Published: November 26, 2012
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At Big Lagoon beach, a short drive from Arcata, signs posted near the parking lot warned beachgoers not to turn their back to the surf and to pay special attention to sneaker waves.

"Because the beach is designed that way, when that 10-foot wall breaks, it surges up on the beach and surges back really fast," said Garrigan, the Coast Guard officer. "It's like a cyclical washing machine."

As the family walked along the beach, Howard Kuljian threw the stick and the dog gave chase, said Dana Jones, a state parks district superintendent.

Seeing his son in the water, Kuljian leapt to action, and disappeared into the frigid water.

Gregory managed to pull himself back onto the sand, but after realizing his father was drowning, both he and his mother went in to save him.

As Olivia and the girlfriend watched in horror, a nearby bystander called police. By the time help arrived, it was too late. Jones said the officer wasn't able to get to the family members because of the high surf.

Garrigan said the search for the teenager was stopped because a person without a wetsuit could not survive for long in the cold surf.

The Coast Guard deployed a helicopter and two motorized life boats to find the teenager, but thick coastal fog made the search difficult. The parks department also called off its search.

"When there is shorebreak like that, you don't even have to go into the water to be pulled into the sea," Jones said. "It's a reminder to be real careful around the ocean."