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Autopsy shows Santa Rosa High School graduate's injuries consistent with cliff fall

Giselle Ayala

Published: Tuesday, April 9, 2013 at 1:32 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, April 10, 2013 at 2:41 p.m.

Sheriff's officials in Santa Barbara Tuesday said Giselle Ayala, 18, of Santa Rosa most likely died last weekend from falling off a cliff along the oceanfront community where she'd gone for a spring break party.

An autopsy showed Ayala "sustained injuries consistent with a fall," sheriff's officials said in a statement.

Sheriff's spokeswoman Kelly Hoover earlier Tuesday had indicated a fall as the probable, but not yet official, cause of death.

"It's definitely a strong likelihood," said Hoover. "The cliff, her falling is a possibility we're looking at."

If that's how the Cal Poly freshman died, she would be the second such fatality in the same area since November. In September, two young men went off the cliffs and survived, according to news reports.

The dangers of college students, alcohol and the cliffs of Isla Vista have been recognized as an ongoing problem by local officials, law enforcement, college administrators and student leaders.

The school routinely sends out email messages to students warning about partying near Isla Vista's cliffs. And this spring almost 400 feet of low rail fencing was added to what had been a county park's unobstructed bluff edge.

"We do have the ocean there and we have 60-foot cliffs there. They're very dangerous," said Rhandy Siordia, an Isla Vista resident, UC Santa Barbara senior and the college's associated student vice president.

This latest death adds to the concern, Siordia said. "It's something our community really has to confront and deal with."

Ayala was last seen by her friends at about 11 p.m. Friday. A beach jogger found her the next morning, dead in the water off of a campus beach.

The 2012 Santa Rosa High School graduate had gone with friends from San Luis Obispo to Santa Barbara for the weekend. Saturday was Isla Vista's annual spring break party.

Isla Vista is located on an ocean bluff, adjacent to the UC Santa Barbara campus. It's home to about 20,000 residents, many of them UC students.

The annual party this year attracted as many as 18,000 people, more than last year's estimated crowd of about 10,000.

Many who attend are under-aged college students who drink.

They crowd homes and apartments and fill the streets, primarily Del Playa Drive, the community's main street along the bluff.

By Friday night, thousands had already arrived for Saturday's event and the parties had begun, according to news and sheriff's reports.

Cat Ayala of Santa Rosa, Ayala's mother, said detectives had indicated her daughter had been at a party Friday night with friends. They'd split off at about 11 p.m. when Ayala said she had to go to the bathroom.

Officers had begun to break up gatherings, people were scattering and Ayala had probably fallen off the cliff, the family was told.

Siordia said many parties along Del Playa Drive are held at homes.

Residences typically have some kind of fence line between yards and bluff edges. Some fences are short and are sometimes crossed by people needing a place to relieve themselves.

"Sometimes they go on the other side of fences to use restrooms," he said.

Visiting students may not realize how close the cliffs are, he said. "It's an unfamiliar place."

If she'd fallen from an Isla Vista cliff, it is possible her body was carried a short way down the coast to nearby Campus Point where she was found.

Sheriff's officials Tuesday continued to decline to release details of the investigation. They also said a final determination on her death will be after toxicology tests are completed, which could take as long as six weeks.

On Nov. 9, detectives investigated the death of a 21-year-old UC Santa Barbara student found on a beach below the Isla Vista cliffs and the 6500 block of Del Playa Drive.

The investigation, which lasted one day, determined he'd fallen.

In September, two intoxicated young men went off the cliffs along the 6700 block of the drive. One 19-year-old reportedly said he'd jumped because he was despondent and another young man reported he went over the cliff, hoping to help his friend.

You can reach Staff Writer Randi Rossmann at 521-5412 or randi. rossmann@pressdemocrat.com.

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