After searching for several days, the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Department uncovered the body of Enrique Jimenez among the rocks at Monta¤a de Oro on Monday afternoon.
Jimenez visited the popular beach Spooner’s Cove with a freshman orientation group on the afternoon of Sept. 22. Cornel Morton, vice president for Student Affairs, said the group had visited the state park to hike and enjoy the park as an opportunity to see more of San Luis Obispo County.
Jimenez and a fellow student in the program – Orientation for United RASA (OUR), a sub-committee of the Movimiento Estudiatil Xicana/o de Aztlan (MEXA) and an alternative for Hispanic students to the Week of Welcome (WOW) program – climbed out onto a rock only to be overtaken by what Morton described as “a rogue wave.” While the other student escaped danger, Jimenez wasn’t as lucky.
“This could have happened anywhere,” said Ken Barclay, director for Student Life and Leadership.
A nearby WOW group happened to be on the scene and heard the screaming. A freshman in the group, who had previously been a lifeguard, ran to help but was unsuccessful, Barclay said. The WOW leader promptly called the WOW advisers, who alerted various university organizations to the situation.
Jimenez remained missing and was presumed dead until Monday when members of the Sheriff’s Underwater Search and Recovery Team found the body approximately 100 yards from where he supposedly entered the water, a news release from the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Department said.
OUR members gathered in the multicultural center the evening Jimenez went missing “just to be together,” Barclay said. “It was very subdued.”
Lia Hernandez, a social science senior and former MEXA president, said the Jimenez family had requested that MEXA members refrain from speaking to the press.
Morton said the counseling center has been available to students who are coping with the incident. Although he said it is too early to make any final decisions, the situation will be analyzed to ensure that “nothing like this could ever happen again.”
“That organization has been very instrumental in the past,” Morton said. “They are quite emotionally struck.”
Barclay said all new students are invited to partake in orientation programs and estimated that approximately 80 percent of all incoming students partake in the program. This year nearly 3,400 incoming students were participants.
For WOW, orientation leaders are required to go through three hours of training per week during spring quarter, as well as a couple workshops on the side. Barclay said it is mandatory for students to sign a pledge agreeing to follow university policies, such as no drugs or alcohol. Additionally, the leaders are to have planned out their week in advance so WOW officials know where groups are at all times.
“The sad thing is an accident like this could happen to anyone regardless of training,” Barclay said.
Morton said he spent Saturday with Jimenez’s father, mother, two brothers and family friend. They visited Monta¤a de Oro and a small group of OUR members joined them.
“I asked his brothers about him,” Morton said. “He was a very, very excited and enthusiastic kid and very bright. He was fun-filled; he liked movies and going out to eat at restaurants with friends.”
Morton said Jimenez wanted to “follow in his brother’s footsteps” and would have been an engineering major, just like his older brother at Sacramento State University.
“When I look at what’s happened, much of the Cal Poly community has embraced his memory,” Morton said. “I’ve been in Student Affairs for 25 years and this particular death has really impacted me.”
The San Luis Obispo County Coroner’s Office will conduct an autopsy to determine Jimenez’s exact cause of death.
“You are made to feel very sad, but it’s very important to take care of each other and reach out to one another,” Morton said. “Cal Poly is known for being a safe campus but tragedy can strike anywhere.”