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Mom: Kayaker found dead off Hampton Bays 'such a perfect person'

Undated photo of Raistlin Ruther, 18, whose body

Undated photo of Raistlin Ruther, 18, whose body was found Saturday night in the waters off Hampton Bays.  Credit: Laura Gandara

The mother of an 18-year-old kayaker from Riverhead whose body was found Saturday night near Hampton Bays remembered her son as an avid outdoorsman who loved the water and adventure.

Raistlin Ruther "was such a well-mannered, polite boy," his mother, Laura Gandara, of Murrieta, California, said through tears. "He was not your average 18-year-old."

Ruther had launched his kayak from West Street in South Jamesport about 8 a.m. Saturday. His kayak and body were found later that night, according to a Riverhead police news release.

Gandara said Ruther was an experienced kayaker, equipped with a wet suit and other gear. He had called his grandmother in Riverhead Saturday morning and told her he was having a good day on the water, Gandara said.

"Something happened after that," she said.

Rescuers searched nearby waters and beaches for nearly four hours, the news release said. About 7:40 p.m., the capsized kayak, believed to belong to Ruther, was found off the shore of Meschutt County Beach in Hampton Bays, and his body was found shortly afterward, the release said.

Ruther was wearing a life jacket and a neoprene hood, according to Petty Officer Cory Mendenhall, a spokesman for the United States Coast Guard.

Ruther’s aunt, Carissa Sexton, started a GoFundMe page to help his family with funeral and travel costs as well as starting a scholarship in Ruther’s name. She wrote: "When Raistlin left us, a little piece of us all left with him."

Nationwide, there were 86 deaths of kayakers in 2019, most of which involved capsizing, according to a report compiled by the U.S. Coast Guard covering the most recently available statistics.

Gandara said her son, a history buff, graduated from Riverhead High School last year and hoped to pursue a career in carpentry, following in his dad's footsteps. Raistlin loved to hike and run, she said, and kept himself physically fit. He was a boxer who trained friends, she said.

Ruther moved with his mother to Murrieta, an inland community about halfway between Los Angeles and San Diego, but returned to Long Island to live with his grandparents because he missed being close to the water.

Gandara, who was driving from California to New York when she spoke to Newsday, said the family plans to have a memorial service in the near future. She said her son's autopsy is pending.

As she headed east, Gandara described how her son was drawn to seek out adventure in the water as a young boy — around age 9, he took sailing lessons at the Mattituck Yacht Club, and around age 12 got a sunfish sailboat. She said he hoped to live out on the water someday, on a bigger boat, sailing the East Coast.

Always in shape, he ate healthy and would tease his mom, a self-described "chocolate fanatic," to do so as well, she said.

"He would try to stop me from eating more than one cookie," she said. "I’m like, ‘who eats one cookie?’"

"He just loved to be so healthy. He had absolutely no interest in trying any drugs — not smoking anything, not drinking anything. I just felt like I never had to worry about him," she said, adding: "I never did think that something terrible would happen to him."

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