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Los Angeles County lifeguards on Monday mourned the loss of a young rescuer killed in a traffic incident over the weekend.
Derek Traeger, 28, perished Sunday in a freeway accident, the L.A. County coroner’s office said in a statement. The cause of death was listed as blunt trauma.
Details about the crash were unavailable.
It was a tragic end for a Los Angeles County native who seemed to spend much of his life immersed in cold saltwater, a world away from the metropolis’ notorious road congestion.
The lifeguard division of the county fire department announced Traeger’s death Monday “with great heartache,” according to a statement.
It said he had been an ocean lifeguard for six years and was assigned to beaches at the north end of Santa Monica, where Pacific Coast Highway leads to Malibu.
It’s not an easy job — the county requires viable candidates to perform a 1,000-meter ocean swim and then undergo 100 hours of training — and some lifeguard organizations have had a hard time staffing up for summer.
The division is responsible for 72 miles of coastline, from the Orange County line to its border with Ventura County, and a typical year can demand 10,000 or more ocean rescues.
Traeger was a waterman, someone who lived a life centered around the ocean.
According to a bio published by a swim school where he worked as an assistant coach, Traeger grew up in San Pedro, a hardscrabble port and seaside community in the city of L.A.
He learned to swim and surf there, and worked the beaches as a junior lifeguard before he could even drive, according to the Swim With Mo bio.
San Pedro High School offered more opportunities to spend time in the water, and Traeger joined its swim team and surf team, becoming captain of the latter, the swim school said.
He started teaching others how to swim in 2011, and he was taking classes at California State University, Long Beach, the bio states.
Traeger’s Facebook page, apparently abandoned years ago, includes photos of Traeger surfing gracefully and with high skill, including cutbacks that produce a fan of spray, and crouching in anticipation of being enveloped by a wave’s churning tube.
The page’s profile photo shows his head bobbing in ocean water.
The lifeguard division on Monday said its Peer Support Team of counselors was available for family and fellow lifeguards.
“Traeger understood better than most what it means to wear the red trunks,” the division said. “His passion for life, art, the ocean, and his lifeguard family was evident in every moment he lived.”