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19-Year-Old Man Drowns In Choppy Waters Off Rancho Palos Verdes

RANCHO PALOS VERDES ( — Officials confirm a 19-year-old Long Beach man drowned Wednesday while swimming with his friends in choppy water off Rancho Palos Verdes.

Firefighters were called at 2:57 p.m. and arrived within minutes to the 5600 block of Palos Verdes Drive, the Los Angeles County Fire Department said.

Officials initially reported that two swimmers were in distress while swimming in Abalone Cove but it's since been learned that one of them, Toogee Zepeda, jumped in to save his friend. Zepeda was unable to carry his friend so he left him on a rock and went to get help. He came back to find his friend was gone.

Five hours later, crews were unable recover the friend's body and said they'd resume their search Thursday morning. The LACFD said they consider this case a fatality.

Zepeda said he and his friends were jumping into the surf in Abalone Cove when one of them started yelling for help and could not grab a rope that was thrown to him.

"Out of instinct I just jumped in and I tried to save him, but I couldn't carry him on my back. I couldn't swim back," Zepeda said, adding that he put his friend on a rock and told him to stay put.

Zepeda said by the time help came, his friend was "nowhere to be seen."

"Every time we had air, another wave kept coming on top of us," Zepeda said.

Lifeguards say they've made more than 60 rescues in this area since the Fourth of July weekend. They say they've told hundreds of people, including five kids who were stranded on the rocks Tuesday, to avoid the caves and tide pools. They say even experienced swimmers should keep out.

"I talked to all the kids down here and said it was closed," lifeguard Ed Butts said Tuesday.  "They came over the top. They came, jumped, went over."

Zepeda said he and his friends come to the spot every week.

"We didn't think much of it," Zepeda said.

Authorities say social media has popularized the area.

The mayor of Rancho Palos Verdes told CBS2/KCAL9 reporter Kristine Lazar that because the area is public property they can't keep people out but lifeguards can close stretches of beach if they deem conditions unsafe.

"People seem to feel a little more comfortable than they should. This environment is extremely dangerous. There's slippery rocks, there's a bad egress to get out and conditions are always changing," Scott Miller, of the LACFD, told Video News West.


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(©2014 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services contributed to this report.)

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