A 34-year-old woman drowned near Stearns Wharf early Monday morning, reported Santa Barbara police spokesperson Lt. Paul McCaffrey. No foul play is suspected.
The woman has been identified as Chelsea Jeanne Curtis, a Santa Barbara resident. According to detectives, Curtis went to a downtown nightclub with her friend the evening of Sunday, April 10. She stepped outside for a cigarette at around 12:30 a.m., but at 2 a.m. when the club closed Curtis’s companion couldn’t find her. The friend went to Curtis’s house – where someone was watching her three children – but Curtis hadn’t returned home. “The companion was not overly concerned as Curtis sometimes would leave with another friend or acquaintance,” said McCaffrey.
A couple hours later, around 4 a.m., maintenance crews working on Stearns Wharf saw Curtis swimming in the ocean on the east side of the wharf, around 100 yards offshore and between the main wharf and the Ty Warner Sea Center. Her clothes were later found neatly folded on the sand nearby.
The workers were concerned for her safety, said McCaffrey, because of the strange hour and cold water, but “Curtis appeared to be okay with her head above water,” McCaffrey said. Every few minutes one of the workers would check on Curtis. After half-an-hour, one of them called out to her, but though she didn’t respond, she appeared to be treading water, said McCaffrey. The workmen called Harbor Patrol to check on her, but at 4:45 a.m. it looked as if Curtis’s head was completely underwater. One of the workers – Nick Negro – jumped in to help her, and crew members called Harbor Patrol again, asking officers to hurry up.
Negro towed Curtis to shore, and shortly thereafter medics responded. Curtis, said McCaffrey, was breathing but in critical condition. She was taken to Cottage Hospital where she was pronounced dead. “The apparent cause of death is drowning,” said McCaffrey, and, “there was no physical trauma and no signs of foul play.” According to the Coroner’s Office, Curtis’s core body temperature was critically low. A toxicology report will be conducted to determined if drugs or alcohol may have contributed to her death.