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It was at his favorite swimming hole on Austin Creek where Colby Streuli of Cazadero was found early Saturday morning, his clothes folded neatly by his prized sportscar at the road's edge, a small flashlight lashed to his wrist.

Just as he had while still a boy, Streuli, 28, sought peace and relaxation at the swimming spot off Austin Creek Road, whatever the season or time of day, said his mother, Kathleen McKeon.

"It was his favorite place," said McKeon of Brentwood.

But in the dark of late Friday night or early Saturday morning, on his way home to his grandma's place about a mile away, Streuli apparently fell on the steep incline leading down to the water and hit his head, family members said. It was about 1 a.m. He had been drinking.

A passing cab driver saw Streuli's familiar 1975 MGB Roadster parked on the shoulder, its headlights on and door open, family members said. He saw it again on his way back from dropping a fare, stopped to look over the embankment 30 or 40 feet to the water and found Streuli face down in the creek.

The Sonoma County Coroner's office is investigating Streuli's death as an accidental drowning, coroner's Sgt. Greg Stashyn said.

On a different night, at an earlier time, Streuli's death might have aroused uncertainty about his intentions in going to the creek that morning.

Streuli had struggled for years with serious mental health issues and, in 2008, sustained traumatic brain injury in a car crash, family members said.

The past decade held many dark periods for him when he longed to escape, his mother said.

But in recent months, Streuli had found more light than he'd known for a very long time, thanks in large part to a new doctor who had adjusted his medications and brought him renewed balance, she said.

He was enjoying life, mixing socially, making plans.

He had a regular at job McDonald's in Santa Rosa, but had recently been hired to work several equestrian hunter/jumper shows for the first time since before his injury. He had a couple more shows lined up, his family said.

On Friday, while in Santa Rosa picking up his paycheck, Streuli gave a disabled friend a ride to an appointment or two, bought her groceries, and later called his grandmother, Sandra McKeon, to see if she needed him to pick up anything, Sandra McKeon said.

He saw several friends, had a few beers and talked by phone with the friend he'd helped earlier before ending up later at the swimming hole, his mother and grandmother said.

Though he hadn't yet learned that alcohol and a brain injury make for a bad combination, Streuli had nonetheless enjoyed improvements in his health and outlook that others couldn't help but notice, said his family.

"For the first time, and the only time, in all these years, we weren't worried about him," his mother said.

Even in her grief over his unexpected death, she is grateful, at least, for the peace he found at the end and for the promise it holds for others who struggle.

"He was looking forward," Kathleen McKeon said. "If it could happen for him, it could happen for anybody."

You can reach Staff Writer Mary Callahan at 521-5249 or mary.callahan@pressdemocrat.com.