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SLO man who died after falling from Morro Bay dinner cruise had storied life

Tobias Brekke and his family.
Tobias Brekke and his family.

The man who died last month after falling overboard from a Morro Bay commercial dinner boat had a storied life, spending decades as a rock ’n’ roll drummer before injuries suffered in a car crash compelled him to reconnect with the love of his life in San Luis Obispo and pursue a career in health care.

This past week, Morro Bay police closed their investigation into the death of Tobias Brekke, 59, finding nothing criminal involved nor negligence on the part of the crew. An investigation by the U.S. Coast Guard is expected to conclude similarly in the coming days.

Brekke was a well-known San Luis Obispo resident who most recently worked as a nurse at California Men's Colony. He was featured in a video documentary posted on nursetv.com, where he discussed his career as a drummer, having played for a long list of big-named acts such as Bruce Springsteen, Billy Preston, Christine McVie and Dion DiMucci.

He was a karate black belt and a member of a climbing team that scaled Alaska’s Mount Denali, formerly Mount McKinley, said his wife, Sheree Brekke.

Brekke said a single-car crash in New Mexico, where her husband was working selling real estate in 2003, changed his life. As he lay in the hospital recovering from near-fatal injuries, Tobias Brekke wrote to his soon-to-be-wife. The two had been close friends in high school but had lost touch over the years.

“He wrote, ‘I realize there’s a very short list of people I never want to lose contact with. And you’re on that list,’ ” Sheree Brekke recalled. “He said, ‘I think about you every day.’ ”

The two soon reunited, and within a year, Tobias Brekke had moved to San Luis Obispo to be with Sheree, a registered nurse house supervisor at Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center. They married in 2004.

“We were always just really good friends, and he was the only person I know who never said a bad thing about anyone,” Brekke said.

Tobias Brekke took a job at Farm Supply Co., in San Luis Obispo where he worked for 11 years, said his boss and friend Jim Brabeck, Farm Supply CEO.

“There was a perpetual aura of peace that surrounded him. He was a very wise man who perceived the order of the universe and learned to go with it,” Brabeck said. “There were no ups and downs with Tobias. And it was real; it wasn’t a façade.”

Brekke worked at the shop as he studied at Cuesta College to become a registered nurse, which he did in 2009.

On Sept. 4, Brekke fell overboard while on a nighttime cruise on the Papagallo II, a 72-foot commercial motor yacht home-ported in Morro Bay harbor. No one witnessed him fall, but another passenger jumped into the water and found him face down and unconscious.

The crew on a passing Morro Bay Oyster Co. skiff pulled both passengers from the water and took them to the Coast Guard dock, where officers and Morro Bay firefighters performed CPR.

Brekke was taken by ambulance to Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center, where he later died.

On Wednesday, Morro Bay police Cmdr. Bryan Millard said the department has closed its investigation.

According to the department, officers inspected the vessel and interviewed the 22 passengers, four crew members and one bartender aboard that night, as well as the crew of the oyster boat.

Their investigation found that the yacht was returning to port just after 8 p.m. when witnesses reported seeing Brekke seated on a rail on the port side of the vessel, his back facing the water. Witnesses did not see him fall but heard a splash.

Someone yelled out, and the captain turned the boat around and activated the spotlight. While the passenger jumped in the water, a crew member threw a life ring.

The San Luis Obispo County Coroner’s Office did not perform an autopsy because Brekke  was being treated by a hospital doctor when he died, sheriff’s spokesman Tony Cipolla said.

A toxicology screening found no illegal drugs in Brekke’s system nor “anything that would cause us to reopen or further investigate this matter criminally,” Millard said.

Chief Warrant Officer Scott Young of the Coast Guard’s Office of Marine Safety in Santa Barbara said last week that the federal agency also is wrapping up its investigation. He said the Coast Guard’s role is to inspect the vessel and review the actions of the crew. There is no indication the crew was negligent or that the deck’s fittings had anything to do with the fall, Young said.

“We don’t really know what happened,” Young said. “(He) went over without anyone seeing him.”

Sheree Brekke said her husband had a history of low blood pressure and had complained of dizziness in recent months, but the couple attributed those incidents to heat and dehydration. She said he didn’t have much alcohol to drink the night of the cruise and that a CT scan and other hospital tests showed nothing out of the ordinary.

She suspects her husband may have suffered an arrhythmia that caused him to lose consciousness.

“I can live with not knowing, I guess,” Sheree Brekke said.

Sheree Brekke said a memorial featuring live music is planned for 1 p.m. on Nov. 29 at the Madonna Inn Expo Center. Sheree said that anyone wanting to attend is welcome and is asked to RSVP at the event guestbook at http://goo.gl/DLelXw.

She said the memorial will celebrate the many chapters of Tobias Brekke’s life.

“One of the missions of his life was to teach people, children, about death and dying,” Brekke said. “He thought it was something people don’t talk about but should be learning to deal with. To him, birth and death were exactly the same.”

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