LAKE GEORGE — The New York City man who died after he fell from a kayak Friday was determined to have drowned, as an autopsy has ruled out a medical problem playing a part in his death.
Jonathan Mendoza, 24, of New York City, was pronounced dead Friday afternoon after divers pulled his body from the lake just south of Hearthstone state campground.
Warren County sheriff’s Lt. Steve Stockdale said an autopsy performed at Albany Medical Center over the weekend led to the conclusion that Mendoza drowned after he fell from a kayak he was paddling.
Mendoza and his girlfriend were staying in the village of Lake George for the holiday weekend and had gotten kayaks from the motel where they stayed — Lake Motel. They were given lifejackets and instructed about the importance of wearing them, but Mendoza chose not to wear his. A co-owner of the motel, Steve Purcelli, said he and his staff were “devastated” by the situation but had no further comment.
The two had kayaked north along the lake’s west shore for a mile or so before turning and heading back south when he lost control in choppy water and fell out. His girlfriend threw a life vest to him, and people on shore tried to help him, but he slipped below the surface of the chilly 55-degree lake. His body was recovered less than an hour later in 27 feet of water offshore of Paxton Drive.
Mendoza could swim, but was not considered a “strong” swimmer by his family, Stockdale said.
“He was a big guy, and swimming had not been a big part of his life,” Stockdale said.
Lake George is a tough lake for those using smaller boats like kayaks or canoes, as the lake gets very choppy because of winds and heavy boat traffic during the summer and holiday weekends.
The lake was also the scene of a fatal accident in 2010 when a powerboat hit a kayak. The kayaker drowned when he was seriously injured and tossed into the lake.
A canoeist drowned on the lake in 2016, a drowning that happened days after two kayakers were rescued when their boats tipped over in rough water.
The lake is a tough one for inexperienced and beginner kayakers who stray outside sheltered bays or the Narrows.
“It’s too choppy, too many bad things can happen,” Stockdale said.
No safety course is required before taking a kayak or canoe on the water, and only children 12 and younger have to wear personal flotation devices year-round. State law requires all who get on boats of 21 feet or less between Nov. 1 and May 1 to wear a personal flotation device.