Elliot Blair, Orange County’s assistant public defender who died in Mexico, recalled his generosity
- US News
- February 12, 2023
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Elliot Blair loved helping people. The 33-year-old Orange County public defender often stayed late to talk to his clients, people accused of crimes who couldn’t afford to hire an attorney.
“When he wasn’t in court, he was standing up for his clients,” said Annie Rodriguez, a staffer and friend. “Judges and lawyers would wonder where he was. And he was just out in the hall talking to his customers…listening to them.”
Friends and family gathered at Christ Cathedral in Garden Grove on Saturday to celebrate Blair’s life. The young lawyer died under mysterious circumstances at a resort in Rosarito, Mexico, in January while celebrating his first wedding anniversary with wife Kimberly Williams.
Blair was remembered as a person who was moved to act when someone needed help.
When his mother recently told him she was struggling to cope with the death of his father in 2020, Blair went to work. He found several support groups near her home and arranged for them to attend a meeting.
Blair and his wife would be in Mexico by that time.
“I found it so uplifting to share my story at the support group,” Stella Blair said during her son’s memorial service, which was attended by hundreds of friends and family members. “Well, I fell asleep so soundly after that class on Friday. I was just lost in comfort.”
But a few hours later, on Saturday, Jan. 14, she received a call that her son had been found dead at the resort where he and his wife were staying in Rosarito, a coastal town about 20 miles south of the border.
Mexican authorities said Blair’s death was the result of an accidental fall from his hotel balcony, but his family insists it was the result of a “brutal crime” and has hired private investigators.
The circumstances surrounding Blair’s death have left family and friends stunned.
“It’s just so unreal,” Rabecca Gomez, Blair’s second cousin, said at Saturday’s memorial service. “He was always my defender.”
Craig Williams, Blair’s father-in-law, reminisced about traveling with his wife Janet, daughter and son-in-law. But he also remembered Blair coming home late from work. Williams would ask him why he works so hard.
“He always told me that doing the best work for his clients is important to him. He really was a dedicated officer,” Williams said in a choked voice.
Family members said Blair and his late father Tom loved working on Volkswagen Beetles and how the two built a blue 1966 Baja Bug.
His sister, Candace Wilson, who was 15 years older and also drove a Volkswagen Beetle, recalled feeling like a second mother to her younger brother as she drove him to his gym classes or tutoring sessions.
As a child, Blair would sit in the front seat with her and pretend to shift the gears in the car, she said. Eventually his father would teach him how to drive a shifter.
“I like to think I gave Elliot at least some of that experience,” Wilson said.
Friends said Blair has always felt safe in Baja, describing it as both a “safe haven” and his “happy place.”
Blair and Kimberly Williams, who met while colleagues at the Orange County public defender’s office, honeymooned in 2022 at the Las Rocas Resort and Spa in Rosarito. They decided to return on their first anniversary last month.
On the day he died, Blair was found sprawled on the floor three floors below the couple’s room in his underwear, sleep shirt and socks.
In an interview with ABC News’ Good Morning America this week, Williams said she doesn’t believe her husband’s death was an accident.
“Someone did this to him,” Williams said.
She said the couple were driving back to the resort after having dinner at a local restaurant on the night of January 13 when they were pulled over by police, who claimed the couple drove over a stop sign. Officials demanded money, she said.
Blair, who spoke fluent Spanish, explained they didn’t have the amount of cash the police wanted. Another officer asked where the couple were, and Blair told Las Rocas they were on vacation, Williams said.
Blair said the couple were both lawyers and showed police his badge. Eventually, they gave officers $160 — all the cash they had — and were released, she said.
“We were both shattered,” Williams said, “but at the same time we both had this feeling, thank God they didn’t do anything more to us.”
Back at the resort, the couple headed to the lobby bar where they danced before heading to their room. Williams went to bed and Blair showered, she said, adding that she eventually fell asleep.
She was later woken up by the hotel manager and a security guard who briefed her on what had happened and pointed to Blair’s body on the floor below.
“That was my Elliot down there,” Williams said tearfully. “I kept yelling at them to call an ambulance. They said an ambulance came an hour ago.”
The couple had been staying in a room on the third floor of the hotel that was 20 to 25 feet above the ground, family attorney Case Barnett said.
In a previous interview, Barnett told the Times that a plainclothes police officer wearing a badge told Williams at the scene that Blair had a gunshot wound to the head.
Williams told ABC News Thursday that Mexican authorities described Blair’s death as either an “accident” or a “suicide.” Williams admitted Blair had five or six drinks the night before, but that she’d never seen him so drunk he couldn’t “take care of himself.”
Mexican authorities attributed Blair’s death to an accidental fall from the hotel’s outer jetty. An autopsy performed by the state coroner found Blair died of traumatic brain injury. The report showed no visible injuries consistent with a firearm or edged weapon.
The investigation remains open.
Blair’s body was returned to the United States in late January.
On Thursday, Barnett said a Jan. 14 autopsy report prepared in Mexico described Blair’s death as “aggravated homicide.”
The family hired Dr. Rami Hashish, a biomechanical expert, with reviewing images included in the report, which showed bruises on Blair’s arms and legs, “road rash” on Blair’s knees, an injury to his left toe and about 40 fractures in the back of his skull, Barnett said .
While it remains unclear what happened to Blair before his death, his mother wants the world to remember her son by passing on his generosity and kindness.
“When you needed help or needed some encouragement with his mischievous sense of humor, he stopped and really connected with people and he let you know he cared,” Stella Blair said. “A drop of water is a drop of water. Hundreds of drops of water can change the world. I ask that we remember and share this so that we can make a difference in this world and in people’s lives.”
Times contributors Alexandra Petri and Terry Castleman contributed to this report.