Florida Keys

Hikers swept to sea by a rogue wave

Lisa Kaminski and Maggie Gutierrez
Lisa Kaminski and Maggie Gutierrez Facebook

A Florida Keys attorney known for her volunteer work, sharp wit and engaging presence in the island chain’s social scene suffered grave injuries Aug. 19 when she and her girlfriend were swept into the sea by a rogue wave while vacationing on the coast of Mexico.

Maggie Gutierrez, 51, remained on life support Tuesday at a San Diego hospital but only because she is an organ donor, friends said.

“She’s gone,” said Leigha Fox, who knew Gutierrez as a boating buddy and Rotary pal. “Maggie never came to. She’s been on a ventilator since it happened.”

Gutierrez’s partner, Lisa Kaminski, who managed hotels in Key West and recently in Marathon, was treated and released from a Mexican hospital and accompanied Gutierrez on a flight from Cabo San Lucas to San Diego, where she remained Tuesday.

Patty Ivey of Marathon created a GoFundMe page with a goal of $25,000 to help with expenses from medical treatment in Mexico. Fox said the hospital would not take insurance and charged $8,000 just for Gutierrez’ release, plus the $1,800 it cost to fly to San Diego.

Gutierrez, a Maryland native who rooted for the Orioles and the Ravens, was a past president of the Monroe County Bar Association and outside of court lived a classic Keys-style social life that included charity events, her favorite piña coladas, sandbar boating and helping the less fortunate.

On vacation last Friday, the couple was hiking along a formation of rocks known as the arch of Cabo San Lucas, the resort city on the southern tip of Mexico’s Baja California peninsula, when both were swept into the ocean by a large, spontaneous wave, Fox said.

“She walked out onto this path and a security guard was telling her to come back,” Fox said. “Lisa heard him and went to get Maggie.”

That’s when a large wave — the type described as a wall of water with steep sides —sent them both into the ocean as bystanders cried for help and waited for a boat to come rescue the women from the rough waters, Fox said.

The women were pushed back up against a rock, Fox said, but the couple became separated. Gutierrez got the worst of it while Kaminiski was conscious for at least a few moments.

“She told me she remembers coming to on the beach,” Fox said of Kaminski. “Maggie was in the water for over 20 minutes. Lisa doesn’t know what happened. She remembers coming to again in the hospital.”

Extreme storm waves — sometimes called “sneaker waves”— are more than twice the size of the surrounding waves, completely unpredictable and often come from directions other than prevailing winds, according to the National Ocean Service, which calls them rare.

Yet several deaths have been reported in the region over the last several years, and Mexican officials warn tourists who walk the beaches to follow safety rules at their peril.

Gutierrez has a law practice Key West and is known as someone to call when you were in trouble. Backstreet Boy Nick Carter hired her as his local counsel after his bar brawl arrest in Key West in January.

“Maggie was a fighter,” said Monroe County Mayor Heather Carruthers, a 15-year friend. “When I first heard, I thought, if anybody can pull through this, Maggie can.”

Before Gutierrez started dividing her time between Key West and Marathon a few years ago – after meeting Kaminski, who was managing the Holiday Inn Express in Marathon – Carruthers said she’d see often see the brunette attorney out and about, taking part in the island’s events.

“She was a bumblebee when we were all bumblebees for Fantasy Fest,” Carruthers said. “She was engaged.”

Like so many people across the Keys, Carruthers spent Tuesday absorbing the loss of a friend known for helping others.

Gutierrez rescued several dogs from the Florida Keys SPCA, including Oscar, a schnauzer thrown from a moving car on Duval Street who required months to recuperate from injuries, heartworm disease and other neglect.

“Oscar found the perfect home with Maggie, who adored him,” Jane Dawkins posted online Tuesday on behalf of the Keys SPCA. “He went to work with her at her law office and we often received photos of Oscar on their road trips together.”

Oscar’s recovery inspired Oscar’s Fund, which helps pay for expensive medical treatment for animals who arrive at the shelter wounded or ill.

“We will miss Maggie's lovely smile, her bubbly personality and her love for the animals,” Dawkins said. “It was a privilege to have known you, Maggie”

Gwen Filosa: @KeyWestGwen