The daughter of a San Diego Chargers coach was swept to her death by a powerful wave as she and her brother stood on the rocky Mendocino coastline to scatter the ashes of their mother, who had killed herself last month.
Coast Guard rescuers found the body of 32-year-old Debbie Menta Friday morning, floating just off the razor-sharp rocks jutting out from the coast. Menta’s father is Chargers’ quarterback coach Dwain Painter.
Painter’s 23-year-old son, Doug, was battered and gashed trying to rescue his sister, but pulled himself to safety and was in stable condition Friday. Hospital officials said he was likely to be released today.
The two were scattering the ashes of their mother, Diane Painter, who committed suicide hours after San Diego won the American Football Conference championship Jan. 15.
Friends said Diane Painter, who was divorced from her husband, was upset she would not be going to the Super Bowl with him. She started her car in the garage of their home in Bellevue, Pa., and died of carbon monoxide poisoning.
“It’s just a series of family tragedies,” said Leo Menta, father of Menta’s husband, Mark, who lives in the San Francisco suburb of Foster City. The couple have an 18-month-old son, Taylor.
“You can imagine the pain he is going through,” said Chargers spokesman Bill Johnston.
The brother and sister were scattering the ashes at the site because Diane Painter had often visited Mendocino with her daughter.
“It’s one of the favorite spots for the mother and her,” Leo Menta said.
On Thursday, Doug Painter was found by artist Joy Verner staggering naked along the Mendocino Headlands about 120 miles north of San Francisco, “bloody from top to bottom,” she said.
Doug Painter told authorities he and his sister had stood on a high rock above the ocean in the late afternoon Thursday to scatter the ashes of their mother.
The area isn’t dangerous in mild weather, but on Thursday it was pounded by 10 foot to 15 foot waves that were funneled through rocks and in some spots built to 25 feet, said Mendocino firefighter Ed O’Brien.
“It’s quite beautiful - but very treacherous,” he said.
One of the waves picked both brother and sister off the rock. Doug Painter was thrown onto jagged rocks and managed to crawl to safety, but fell into a crevasse with his sister when he reached to pull her out.
The two struggled for the next 20 minutes in waves that alternately smashed them into the cliffs and pulled them offshore, tearing off their clothes.
Doug Painter finally managed to grab hold of the rocks again, and crawled to the top of the cliff.
“He had shredded hands, shredded knees and shredded feet,” O’Brien said.
Dwain Painter had flown to the Pittsburgh area for his ex-wife’s funeral before the Super Bowl last Sunday, which San Diego lost to the San Francisco 49ers 49-26.
During the Super Bowl preparation, he told reporters at Joe Robbie Stadium in Miami that his wife’s suicide made it hard for him to enjoy the event.
“It’s tough because so many things you would have liked to have happen now won’t materialize,” he had said. “It’s so tragic.”