Autopsy reveals Duffie suffered from hypothermia

An autopsy performed Monday on the body of Phoenix resident Sean Duffie revealed that the former Southern Oregon University All-American wrestler died by drowning due to hypothermia while surfing last Thursday near South Beach in Crescent City, Calif.

Duffie, 39, was airlifted from the water by the U.S. Coast Guard after longtime friend and Central Point resident Ross Litton didn't see Duffie return to the shore and contacted authorities.

Duffie was pronounced dead upon arrival at Sutter Coast Hospital, though there was no sign of trauma on his body.

The water temperature that day was 47 degrees.

"It mainly just makes it to where your muscles can't move," said Tim Athey, operations commander and chief deputy coroner of Del Norte County, of water that cold. "After a period of time, it can even go to work on the brain."

Wendy Duffie, Sean's wife of almost 15 years, said her husband was an avid surfer. He grew up in Hawaii before his family relocated to Eagle Point when he was in high school. His last name then was Carlson. He changed it shortly after graduation.

Duffie took up surfing again as an adult and had surfed all around the world, including in Guam and Mexico.

"People look at this situation and may not know that he was at home in the water," Wendy said. "He loved the ocean. He was completely comfortable and would never panic."

Friends and family say Duffie was prepared for the cold temperatures. He wore a wet suit equipped with a hoodie as well as gloves and booties.

"Sean was really an avid waterman, and he could always handle himself really well in a situation," said Litton, who had been surfing with Duffie for 17 years. "I truly believe Sean bumped his head or something happened that made him incapacitated. Sean was definitely dressed adequately."

Athey said that may not always be enough.

"It's not going to protect him for a long period of time," Athey said of Duffie's wet suit. "It was estimated he was out there surfing for three hours. Even though the ambient temperature may be good, the water is still 47 degrees."

Duffie leaves behind his wife Wendy and two children, daughter Katie, 10, and son Max, 6. A memorial fund to support his family has been established in Duffie's name at Washington Mutual.

"He was a great dad to them," Wendy said. "He was going to teach Katie to surf this summer. He just really loved his family and he loved his friends. There wasn't a bad bone in his body."

Duffie was a state wrestling champion in 1987 and three-time district champion at Eagle Point. He was an All-American at Clackamas Community College and later an NAIA All-American at SOU, placing second at nationals in 1996.

A memorial service is tentatively planned for Saturday at 2 p.m. at the Ashland Christian Fellowship.

"He really enjoyed life," Wendy said. "We had a lot of fun. I'm so glad we were able to because he had such a short time to live. We always said that you've got to take advantage of the time you have because you never know when it's going to be over, and it's so true."

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