Obama chef's paddleboard death in Martha's Vineyard latest tragedy to strike exclusive island (2024)

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Obama's personal chef drowns on Martha’s Vineyard, ‘very unusual’: Martha’s Vinyard resident

Fox News’ Bryan Llenas reports on the ‘puzzling’ weather and water conditions where the Obamas' chef Tafari Campbell drowned, with resident Mitch Rubin calling the pond ‘safe’ and ‘shallow.’

Martha's Vineyard, a New England summer colony for the rich and powerful, is known mostly for its waterfront, its high-profile visitors, its privacy and its use as the backdrop to the movie "Jaws."

However, while crime is low within the exclusive playground of the ultra-elite, tragedy can strike anyone, anywhere.

The death of Tafari Campbell, the 45-year-old presidential chef who drowned in a paddleboarding accident Sunday, is the latest in a string of shocking deaths on the exclusive island south of Cape Cod, Massachusetts.

BODY OF MISSING PADDLEBOARDER RECOVERED AT MARTHA'S VINEYARD POND; 911 CALL DISPATCHED TO OBAMA'S ESTATE

Tafari Campbell, July 23, 2023

Campbell, a Virginia native and father of two, slipped off a stand-up paddleboard in a pond near former President Barack Obama's property in Edgartown and drowned in about 8 feet of water 30 yards in.

The 45-year-old had served as White House chef for both Obama and former President George W. Bush.

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Tafari Campbell, a 45-year-old father of two, was a former White House chef for two presidents and became the Obamas' personal chef. (WH.gov)

Police received the 911 call around 7:45 p.m. after Campbell failed to resurface after the fall Sunday. Search and rescue teams found his body the following morning.

In a statement, the Obamas said the private chef had become a "beloved" member of their family over the years.

"When we first met him, he was a talented sous chef at the White House — creative and passionate about food, and its ability to bring people together," the former president and first lady said in a statement. "In the years that followed, we got to know him as a warm, fun, extraordinarily kind person who made all of our lives a little brighter."

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Edgartown, Massachusetts, police block off the road to Wilson's Landing on Monday. (Ray Ewing/Vineyard Gazette)

They were so fond of him, the couple said, they asked him to continue to work for them after they left the White House.

"He’s been part of our lives ever since, and our hearts are broken that he’s gone," the Obamas said. "Today we join everyone who knew and loved Tafari — especially his wife Sherise and their twin boys, Xavier and Savin — in grieving the loss of a truly wonderful man."

Massachusetts police said the former first couple was not home at the time of the incident and that they did not suspect foul play.

The Massachusetts Office of the Chief Medical Examiner told Fox News Digital it does not release autopsy or toxicology reports. A death certificate is expected to come from Edgartown at a later date.

According to the Vineyard Gazette, the Obamas bought the 6,892-square-foot mansion on nearly 30 acres for $11.75 million in December 2019.

'Jaws' bridge incident, Aug. 14, 2022

Two brothers working at a Vineyard restaurant for the summer leapt off a bridge made famous by the movie "Jaws."

Jumping from the bridge is a local tradition stretching back decades, police said, but neither survived.

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Police and other mourners attend a vigil on the so-called "Jaws" bridge between Edgartown and Oak Bluffs on Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts, on Aug. 17, 2022, for two brothers, Tavaris and Tavaughn Bulgin, who drowned after partaking in a local tradition of jumping off the ledge. (Massachusetts State Police)

Tavaris and Tavaughn Bulgin, 26 and 21, respectively, were business students and seasonal workers visiting from Jamaica, according to Massachusetts State Police.

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People jump off "Jaws Bridge" during JawsFest: The Tribute, a festival celebrating the film "Jaws," on the island of Martha’s Vineyard on Aug. 11, 2012, in Edgartown, Massachusetts. Two brothers, Tavaris and Tavaughn Bulgin, died after jumping from the bridge in 2022. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

JFK Jr. plane crash, July 16, 1999

Former first son John F. Kennedy Jr., his wife Carolyn and her sister Lauren Bessette perished in a plane crash in the Atlantic Ocean about 8 miles southwest of Martha's Vineyard.

WATCH ‘THE DISAPPEARANCE OF JFK JR’ ON FOX NATION

U.S. Navy divers recovered their remains five days later.

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John F. Kennedy Jr. attends a ceremony awarding the John Kennedy Prize. The son of former President Kennedy died in a plane crash with his wife and sister-in-law in 1999 just a few miles off Martha's Vineyard. (Brooks Kraft LLC)

A National Transportation Safety Board investigation concluded that Kennedy, who was piloting the plane, "became disoriented and lost control."

The trio left a New Jersey airport for Martha's Vineyard around 8:40 p.m. on July 16, 1999. They planned to drop Bessette off on the island before Kennedy and his wife would head to Cape Cod for a cousin's wedding.

JOHN F KENNEDY JR SHOULD NOT HAVE FLOWN THE NIGHT HE DIED, SAYS PAL

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Carolyn and Lauren Bessette are pictured walking together in an archive photo. The two were passengers on a tragic flight to Martha's Vineyard in 1999 that crashed into the Atlantic Ocean a few miles offshore. (Splash News/Shutterstock 2023)

Kennedy checked in with the air traffic control tower on Martha's Vineyard but never reached the runway on the foggy summer night.

Kennedy's uncle, then-Sen. Ted Kennedy, who survived his own Martha's Vineyard tragedy three decades earlier, delivered a eulogy at a Catholic funeral Mass in New York City.

Mary Jo Kopechne, July 18, 1969

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Mary Jo Kopechne, shown here in a 1962 file photo, was killed on July 18, 1969, when a car driven by Sen. Edward Kennedy plunged off a bridge into a pond at Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts. Kopechne was a passenger with him. (Getty Images)

Nearly 54 years to the day before Campbell's death, came another drowning with presidential ties.

Mary Jo Kopechne, a 28-year-old Democratic operative, was found dead in then-Sen. Ted Kennedy's overturned car in a pond near Chappaquiddick Island.

Kennedy, the brother of former President Kennedy, left a party on July 18 with Kopechne, lost control of his car on a bridge and hurtled into the water.

WATCH ‘SCANDALOUS: CHAPPAQUIDDICK’ ON FOX NATION

He got out. She did not. The incident was not reported until the following morning.

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A diver attempts to raise a car eight hours after it plunged into pond with Massachusetts Sen. Edward "Ted" Kennedy behind the wheel on July 19, 1969. Mary Jo Kopechne, 28, was killed in the crash. Kennedy pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of an accident and received a suspended two-month jail sentence. (Getty Images)

In an era before cellphones, Kennedy later said he tried to free his passenger from the car but failed, grew exhausted and gave up. He claimed he waited to call police because he was in a state of shock.

"I regard as indefensible the fact that I did not report the accident to the police immediately," he said in a televised speech a week after the wreck.

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However, the senator claimed to have sought help from two friends, who also failed to both free Kopechne and to call police themselves.

"They weren't in shock," the victim's mother, Gwen Kopechne, told Time magazine in August 1969. "Why didn't they get help?"

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Kennedy pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of an accident and served no jail time. Despite calls to resign over the incident, Kennedy continued to win re-election to the U.S. Senate until he died in 2009.

Obama was vacationing on Martha's Vineyard when news of the senator's death broke.

Fox News' Bradford Betz, Stephanie Nolasco and Christine Rousselle contributed to this report.

Obama chef's paddleboard death in Martha's Vineyard latest tragedy to strike exclusive island (2024)
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