Questions remain over OC public defender’s death in Mexico

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Rosarito, Baja California, was where a 33-year-old Orange County public defender died a month ago. Photo by Shutterstock.

Over the weekend, family and friends gathered at a memorial service for Elliot Blair, the 33-year-old Orange County public defender who died in Rosarito, Mexico, a month ago. At that service on Saturday, his sister, Candace Chavez-Wilson, shared her grief.

“His loss is devastating to our families,” she told fellow mourners. “I don’t think we will ever feel whole again or be repaired. But I just want everyone here to remember and honor what an amazing human being he was.”

After Blair’s death, authorities in Mexico determined it was an accident: a case of someone drunk falling off a ledge three stories to his death. Blair’s family, especially Blair’s wife Kimberly, disagrees. And she wants more events of that night investigated, including a shakedown by Rosarito police just two hours before her husband’s death.

“They got pulled over for allegedly rolling through a stop sign. When they were pulled over, the police officer demanded money,” explains Tony Saavedra, investigative reporter at the Orange County Register. “[The police] agreed to take everything that Elliot and Kim had in their wallets, which was about $160. They also asked them where they were staying.”

The family is not yet claiming the officers who stopped the couple are involved in Blair’s death, however they want the shakedown incident investigated by authorities, and excluded if it was not connected. 

Contributing to the suspicion that foul play was involved are the events after Blair was found dead. Blair’s family claims authorities encouraged the family to cremate his body, and had him embalmed without the family’s approval before an independent blood alcohol test could be conducted. The Baja state Attorney General’s office denies this, says Saavedra. Also, the official autopsy and photographs are inconsistent with what authorities determined, the family claims.

“There are bruises on his arms that the family thinks could be defensive wounds,” says Saavedra. “There's also marks on his legs, floor burns … that they believe indicate that he was dragged.”

The family has also commissioned an independent autopsy, which is expected to be completed in a month or so. The family says that will raise even more troubling questions about the night of Blair’s death.

“I'm told that [it] will show that he had 40 fractures to the back of his head,” Saavedra says. And the family believes “that's not somebody falling off a ledge face down.”

Unfortunately for Blair’s family, the U.S. State Department is not intervening in the local investigation, though Congressman Lou Correa, Democrat representing the 46th district, says he will request they do so. The family can appeal the case to a Baja state judge, and possibly a Mexican federal judge. According to Saavedra, lawyers familiar with the Mexican legal system say taking the case to the court of public opinion can also be effective.

“Pressure the Mexican government into doing something. They're very concerned about tourism down there… this kind of pressure can be very persuasive to them.”