La Jolla

Family of spear fisher who died after nearly drowning in La Jolla still waiting for answers

Johnathan Edward Vastola, 54, was born and raised in Point Loma. A paddle-out will be held in his memory on July 4 at Sunset Cliffs

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It’s something he would do regularly, so Emily Vastola Ortiz wouldn’t have expected it to be the last thing he did.

“From what I’ve heard, he got stuck in a current,” she said, in reference to her 54-year-old father, Johnathan Edward Vastola, who died last Saturday after nearly drowning at Marine Street Beach in La Jolla.

Emily explained to NBC 7 that her father went to the beach that day with her cousin to go spear fishing. She has been told that the pair got separated in a current, then her dad got stuck in a nearby kelp bed.

“When my cousin realized he was far away, he went back, couldn’t get him so he had to make the tough decision, which is what he’s grappling with right now, to go get help and leave my dad,” she said.

Her dad was eventually pulled to shore.

“When lifeguards made it to him, he did reach for the buoy,” she relayed. San Diego Fire-Rescue Department lifeguards performed CPR, then he was transported to the hospital. But, by the time Emily, her brother and her mother made it, it was already too late.

“I just can’t imagine a future that my dad is not a part of,” she said. “I was crying that night just thinking, you know, that my dad was scared at the end because he was just such a great guy.”

Emily said he was a jokester, always there with open arms for a hug and someone who others simply loved to be around. She said he was born and raised in Point Loma and enjoyed riding his bike, being in the water and golfing. He also worked as an electrician and was often seen around town in his Volkswagen bus.

A paddle-out is being held in Johnathan Edward Vastola's honor on July 4. Courtesy of Emily Vastola Ortiz.
Emily Vastola Ortiz
A paddle-out is being held in Johnathan Edward Vastola's honor on July 4. Courtesy of Emily Vastola Ortiz.

“He loved family and he loved me and my brother and my mom and it’s just sad and crazy that, you know, you always look back and wonder, ‘What else could I have done to make him even more happy?’ or whatever, but he just already was,” she said.

Emily added they are waiting for the San Diego County Medical Examiner to determine an official cause of death, because it is not clear if he died from nearly drowning and ingesting water or if he had a medical emergency while he was being rescued. She was told it could take anywhere from one month to one year.

Either way, she said she is at peace with their final conversation the day before he died and plans to continue to live her life the way he always had.

“We said ‘I love you,’ that’s the last thing I said to my dad,” she said. “Even though it is really, really, really hard right now, he was doing something he loved, he was with someone he loved and he was at a place he loved.”

A paddle-out is happening at noon on Thursday, July 4 at Sunset Cliffs. Emily said everyone is welcome and encouraged to bring flowers or petals to spread in his memory.

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