NorCalif Diver Death

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Posted by KarlS on December 04, 2002 at 11:38:28:

FYI from the Monterey County Herald newspaper. The usual situation: diver comes from out of state to go diving here. Dies.

Drowning victim considered attending MIIS

Melinda Peraza was planning for a bright future when she visited Monterey last week.

Peraza, 24, drove down from Oakland with her longtime boyfriend to tour the Monterey Institute of International Studies. Fluent in French and Spanish, she was about to graduate from the University of California at Berkeley and wanted to continue with her language studies.

The couple stayed overnight and woke up to go diving, one of many outdoor activities Peraza enjoyed.

But while Peraza was about 40 feet underwater Saturday off the coast of Monastery Beach in Carmel, something went terribly wrong. She apparently drowned before rescuers could reach her, said Monterey County coroner's investigator Steve Austin. An autopsy is pending.

Her death is believed to be the ninth scuba-related fatality in Monterey Bay since 1997, not including divers who died of natural causes while diving, according to the Monterey County Coroner's Office. Monterey Bay can be a dangerous place to dive because of its chilly waters, thick kelp forests and poor visibility.

Peraza's boyfriend, Alberto Romo, was Peraza's diving partner Saturday and tried to save her.

Romo said the two had been in the water for about 25 minutes when he noticed her breathing regulator had come out of her mouth. He said he tried to give her his emergency regulator but was having problems with his weight belt. The belt came off and he was forced to surface alone.

"I couldn't bring her with me," Romo said Monday. He began sobbing as he remembered what happened.

Romo said the pair learned to dive together in May in Belize. They had never before tried to dive in Monterey Bay.

On Saturday, Peraza and Romo dove off the Escapade, a 38-foot charter boat docked at Fisherman's Wharf in Monterey. The boat is owned by Jim and Beverly Capwell of Santa Cruz. The Capwells' company, Dive Central, offers dives in the Monterey Bay and destinations around the world.

Jim Capwell said Monday the boat was anchored at about 60 feet when the incident occurred. He said he wouldn't be able to comment further until the investigation is complete.

Romo said before they went for the dive they were briefed on some of the hazards of the bay. The Carmel coastline has been a dangerous spot for divers who have gotten caught in strong rip tides.

After Romo surfaced from the dive, an emergency diving team from the Monterey County Sheriff's Department pulled Peraza from the water. She was taken to Whaler's Cove near Carmel and given cardiopulmonary resuscitation. She was pronounced dead at Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula.

Romo said he met Peraza five years ago in Mexico. He lives in Mazatlan and she was visiting relatives in the area. The two have stayed together, meeting in various parts of the world to see each other. Romo flew into Oakland on Tuesday to be with Peraza for Thanksgiving and her graduation.

"I came here for the holidays so she wouldn't be alone," Romo said. He said Peraza's parents are both dead.

Peraza was majoring in French at UC-Berkeley. She worked part time at the Center for Latino American Studies at Berkeley.

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