Dillon Reservoir drowning victim was Lewis-Palmer and Colorado College graduate, described as an all-around 'star'

The Denver Gazette
The Denver Gazette
Sailboats skim across Dillon Reservoir in Summit County on Saturday, Aug. 3, 2019. The Gazette file

A 25-year-old man whose body was recovered from Dillon Reservoir after a weekend paddleboarding accident is remembered as a tireless worker and social justice advocate.

The Summit County Coroner's Office on Monday identified Miguel Mendez, a graduate of Lewis-Palmer High School and Colorado College, as the victim of the accident. Mendez was reportedly separated from his board during a microburst storm on Saturday. Rescue crews found his body later that day.

The Summit County Sheriff's Office said that Mendez had a personal flotation device strapped to his board but was not wearing it when the storm hit.

“He was such a nice young man, gone too soon,” said Joanna Witt, whose daughter attended Lewis-Palmer High School with Mendez. “A lot of people are shocked and sad about it.”

Dustin Tupper, a former teacher of Mendez’s at Lewis-Palmer, said Mendez was a “star” in the classroom and as a person.

“That kid, 100% of the time, had a smile on his face,” Tupper said. “It was like his face was made to smile.”

An avid soccer player, Mendez was named to The Gazette’s 2014 All-Area second team and played on a championship intramural team at Colorado College.

Brian Barkey, Mendez’s high school soccer coach, remembered Mendez as a selfless natural leader and teacher who was always “giving of his time and presence,” and that he “cherishes” the time he spent with Mendez in ceramics class, on the field or during long bus rides home.

“Every year of his four years there, we offered a kids’ (soccer) camp,” Barkey said. “He was always one of the first ones to step up and work with the group of children. They’d gravitate toward him.”

Barkey said Mendez was especially concerned with making underclassmen feel accepted and that his passion for fostering a culture of family in the high school soccer program is a legacy that carries through today.

“He was always concerned about how he was going to help make the program special for the school,” Barkey said. “He always knew we were playing for something bigger than ourselves.”

After high school, Mendez continued to pursue causes bigger than himself. He was a 2019 Public Interest Fellow at the Colorado Center of Law and Policy, where his primary focus was affordable housing initiatives, according to a video shared in 2020 by Colorado College.

He also worked as a paralegal at the Achieve Law Group in Denver, according to a LinkedIn bio. Mendez was a resident of Englewood, reported the Summit Daily News.

In an online speech to the Colorado College Career Center, Mendez said that, as the son of Mexican immigrant parents, he felt a responsibility to make his community “a better and more equitable place for everyone” and hoped to inspire others to do the same.

“There are people who look like me … that don’t have the opportunities as I did growing up, and who don’t have the support systems that I had,” Mendez said. “The more I learned about the privilege that I had, the more I realized what my mission in life was.”

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