Families remember drowning victims as avid water users

  • Eric Kim (Courtesy Photo)
  • LeeAnn Leslie (Facebook photo)

KAILUA-KONA — Families of drowning victims found offshore of a Keauhou resort last week describe their loved ones as an avid waterwoman and avid waterman.

Autopsy results released Monday confirm the cause of death was drowning for Eric Kim, 61, and LeeAnn Leslie, 42, both of Kona. The swimmers were found in waters by Sheraton Kona Resort and Spa at Keauhou Bay on March 31.

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Hawaii Police spokesman Alan Richmond said it appears the couple was together and entered the water from the resort shoreline.

“Uncertain if they both went in the water together, both fell in the water together or if one went swimming/fell in the water and was assisted by the other,” Richmond stated.

Richmond added no snorkeling gear was located.

“My girl was a waterwoman,” Leslie’s dad, Richard, said Monday. “The most beautiful — she would give her heart to anybody. A real lovable girl.”

Richard Leslie added his daughter worked in the area on one of the manta ray tour crews. Every night, she was diving in Keauhou Bay.

Leslie’s sister, Pamela, said the pair had gone to spend the day at the beach on the day of the incident.

“They were friends,” she said. “They were spending the day together.”

Third Circuit Court Judge Robert D.S. Kim said he is still in shock about his brother’s death.

“He was an avid surfer and waterman and the family will miss him deeply,” Robert Kim said of his brother, Eric. “My only brother, so what can I say?”

The judge said his brother worked many years at Waikoloa Beach Resort and was currently in construction.

On March 31, emergency responders from Hawaii Fire Department responded to the hotel after receiving a report of two people floating face down in the water. The call to HFD was initiated after witnesses heard a woman crying for help from “rough waters.”

Three responders, with the assistance of the captain and crew of Hula Kai vessel docked in Keauhou Bay, launched to rescue Kim and Leslie. The pair were located after a 2-minute search.

Kim was found 15 feet out from the coastline, while Leslie was pulled about 40 feet from shore.

“Both were rescued from the water and taken to the boat where resuscitation efforts were initiated while patients were transported back to the pier,” fire officials reported.

Once on shore, the victims were taken in critical condition by ambulance to Kona Community Hospital where they were pronounced dead on arrival.

Pamela Leslie said their family was told by fire crews Leslie had gone into the ocean to save Kim.

“It’s very heartbreaking,” Pamela Leslie said. “She was always helping somebody — to her last breath.”

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Pamela Leslie added her sister was a beautiful mother of three boys and a beautiful sister. She was a lifeguard and a captain. She said she hopes the community will take this as a lesson to not take the ocean for granted.

“The ocean is dangerous, it’s always good to watch out,” Pamela Leslie said. “It doesn’t matter how skilled you are, the ocean can still take a life.”

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