Father says 21-year-old son drowned during run at Mission Trails

Local

SAN DIEGO — The father of a 21-year-old found dead Saturday at Mission Trails says his son drowned in a freak accident and he’s calling for action to make the trail area safer for others.

The body of missing 21-year-old Max Lenail was recovered Saturday, Jan. 30, 2021, at Mission Trails in East County. Lenail’s father, Ben Lenail, said Monday that his son drowned at the park and he’s calling for action to make the trail area safer for others. (Photo: Family of Max Lenail)

Max Lenail, a Brown University student who recently moved to San Diego, last was seen Friday before heading to the Mission Trails Regional Park by himself for a run. Local authorities and community members joined police in scouring the park after he was reported missing.

His body was recovered Saturday after being spotted in the water by hikers, police said.

“He was a rock climber and a runner — he loved nature, the mountains and wilderness,” Lenail’s father Ben Lenail said.

Lenail said he received a call Monday from the county’s Medical Examiner’s Office confirming that his son drowned in the incident.

He said Max enjoyed the outdoors and was familiar with the park, having previously completed long-distance runs there. Mission Trails Regional Park has 60 miles of trails and is located at 1 Father Junipero Serra Trail near San Carlos in East County.

“He was trying to get back to the parking lot,” he said. “The trail, there is the river — no structure to cross the river. The waters were swollen and he tried to cross on foot. We believe he was hanging onto a rope and the rope — either he lost his grip or the rope broke.”

The incident drew the attention of several local leaders, including San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria, who said in a Saturday tweet, “Our hearts break for the family of Max Lenail.” The Lenail family, which is based in Palo Alto, said they’re planning a virtual memorial service this weekend.

They’re also hoping for additional protections to keep others safe, punctuated Sunday when their family returned to the site to pray and their older son, Alex, ended up saving another person’s dog from drowning there.

“It’s a matter of time before others suffer a tragic fate in that location,” Lenail said.

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