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  • captstanm1
    National Weather Services Offers Help

    Drownings: National Weather Service offers to help in Panhandle

    Associated Press, July 20, 2003 - 01:59 PM
    The National Weather Service in Alabama wants to help stop the rash of drownings in the Florida Panhandle and is offering its expertise to Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa and Baldwin counties, where most of the deaths have occurred.

    The NWS of Mobile, Ala., will hold an exploratory meeting for county emergency managers on Wednesday in the Panhandle.

    Gary Beeler of the NWS said the agency's meteorological information could assist lifeguards with determining rip current risks. It could help them rate the risks as low, moderate or high.

    More than 20 people have drowned along Escambia and Santa Rosa county beaches since 2001.

    "We wanted to make sure the lifeguards have all the information we make available to them," said Beeler, a veteran meteorologist.

    But officials said some swimmers ignore red warning flags, even complaining when Beach Patrol officers keep them out of the water.

    Janice Kilgore, Public Safety Director for Escambia County, still plans to attend the meeting.

    "If it's a tool that can save another life, then we can certainly use it," Kilgore said.


    Information from: Pensacola News Journal, http://www.pensacolanewsjournal.com

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  • NJFFSA16
    18 dead this year

    PANAMA CITY BEACH, Fla. (AP) - Officials say swimmers continue
    to ignore red flags flown to warn them of dangerous conditions,
    with some complaining when Beach Patrol officers keep them out of
    the water.
    Eighteen people have drowned this year on Florida Panhandle
    beaches, and at least five swimmers were rescued Tuesday although
    the red flags were up, police Maj. David Humphreys said. Conditions
    moderated Wednesday and only one rescue was reported with yellow
    caution flags flying, police said.
    Humphreys said police dispatchers even received calls Tuesday
    from swimmers complaining that officers were stopping them from
    getting into the water.
    "It's always frustrating when you're trying to help people,
    when you're potentially saving their lives and they don't want your
    help," Humphreys said.
    There are no penalties for ignoring such warnings in most
    Panhandle jurisdictions. The Florida deaths, however, prompted Gulf
    Shores, Ala., officials Monday to pass an ordinance making it a
    misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail and a $500 fine
    to ignore red flags or verbal warnings to stay out of the water.
    Meanwhile, a Bay County sheriff's deputy expects to fully
    recover from a broken neck suffered when he jumped from a
    helicopter during a rescue exercise held in response to the
    Sgt. Andy Thomas, 53, was critically injured on June 12. A
    review board has blamed the accident on miscommunication between
    Thomas and other members of the Bay County Sheriff's Beach Patrol
    and the helicopter's pilot.
    "I'm up around and moving," Thomas said Tuesday. "I'm wearing
    a back brace. ... Some days I feel better than others."
    He said his swim fins hit the water first and that caused his
    chest and face to hit next. Thomas said he felt intense pain and
    was unable to swim but his life vest brought him to the surface
    before he lost consciousness.

    (Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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  • captstanm1
    More Drownings in Fla Panhandle...but this is just plain stupid!

    Two swimmers drown in rough surf off Panama City Beach

    Associated Press, July 03, 2003 - 04:43 AM

    Two swimmers drowned off Panama City Beach in rough surf and dangerous rip currents, remnants of Tropical Storm Bill, officials said.

    The names of the two victims were not immediately released, but they became the latest in a recent rash of drowning deaths on Panhandle beaches.

    Nine people drowned in Walton, Okaloosa and Escambia counties over a two-day span in early June. Nearly 40 others were rescued from rough waters and riptides, including many on Panama City Beach.

    A unit of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta has said it plans to investigate drowning deaths in seven Panhandle counties.

    Panama City Beach Maj. David Humphreys said nearly a dozen people were pulled from the water Wednesday afternoon.

    "I don't know why people got in the water," Humphreys said. "It's clearly dangerous out there."

    The first person died after helping two girls who got caught in a current and called for help. The man died later at Bay Medical Center. The second drowning victim was believed to be a teenage girl.

    At least five rescued swimmers also were taken to hospitals.

    Authorities used several options during the rescues, including personal watercraft, all-terrain vehicles and the sheriff's office helicopter. At least four ambulances were called, and numerous beachgoers helped carry victims across the sand.

    "We threw everything we had at this," Humphreys said.

    Red flags flew along the beaches all day, warning swimmers to stay out of the water. Those flags have flown for several days during the rough conditions that marked the tropical storm's passage. But there is no law against entering the water during dangerous conditions.

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  • NJFFSA16
    Associated Press Writer
    PENSACOLA, Fla. (AP) - Nine drowning deaths, including that of a
    Missourian, in two days this month have reinforced the Florida
    Panhandle's dangerous reputation and renewed calls for more steps
    to warn and protect tourists who flock to the region's sugar-white
    The June 8-9 deaths in the Gulf of Mexico conform to a familiar
    pattern: Most victims were tourists, including 57-year-old Bob
    Hehmeyer Jr. of St. Louis County, Mo. Nearly all drowned when
    caught in rip currents at beaches without lifeguards. Several died
    trying to save others.
    "The circumstances in the Panhandle are predictable and the
    result of poor planning and preparedness," said Chris Brewster, a
    spokesman for the U.S. Lifesaving Association. "The communities in
    the Panhandle have done little to shed the reputation they've
    gained of being a national center of drowning."
    The latest victims brought this year's toll from accidental
    drowning to at least 15 along a 100-mile stretch of coast from
    Pensacola to Panama City Beach. They add to notoriety from 17
    deaths off Santa Rosa Island during the previous two years. Five of
    this year's victims also perished off the barrier island at
    Pensacola Beach and Navarre Beach.
    Hehmeyer, a sales manager for a waste-management supplier in the
    St. Louis suburb of Bridgeton, with wife Barbara had attended a
    waste-management conference in New Orleans before vacationing in
    Barbara Hehmeyer is executive director of the Lemay Chamber of
    Commerce in suburban St. Louis.
    Brewster, a former chief lifeguard in San Diego, has
    participated in safety studies the association conducted for some
    Panhandle communities before the latest deaths. Its chief
    recommendation is to station lifeguards at all heavily used
    beaches, including in front of hotels where several deaths have
    For Terry Taylor, who was visiting Pensacola Beach last week
    with his wife, the number of drownings shows not enough is being
    done to protect beachgoers.
    "No one wants to take responsibility," said Taylor, a
    43-year-old plant manager from Joplin, Mo. "They make this open to
    the public but yet in relation to their responsibility they want a
    minimum amount."
    Officials across the region say guarding more beaches would cost
    money - possibly millions of dollars - they don't have. Instead,
    they have relied on warning flags - red when it is too dangerous to
    swim, yellow for caution and green or blue when conditions are safe
    - as well as signs, safety brochures and beach patrols.
    Those measures, however, failed in early June.
    Six of the victims, including former CNN newsman Larry LaMotte,
    drowned about 60 miles east of Pensacola in Walton County, which
    has no lifeguards on 26 miles of beaches. County Commissioner Tim
    Pauls said Walton cannot afford them and doubts they would have
    But another commissioner, Lane Rees, disagreed. He said the
    county should consider placing lifeguards on at least some beaches,
    installing more flags and signs, and putting life preservers on the
    shore so bystanders attempting rescues can wear them or toss them
    to victims. Rees plans to bring up the issue when the commissioners
    meet Tuesday in DeFuniak Springs.
    Last week, the Destin Fire Control District in Okaloosa County,
    where two people drowned June 8, began putting up 50 life
    preservers, each with a 50-foot line.
    Escambia County Commissioner Tom Banjanin said he'll ask his
    board Tuesday in Pensacola to establish a beach safety committee in
    response to what he deems a "crisis." Five people have drowned
    this year in Escambia, four of them on Santa Rosa Island, including
    a June 9 victim.
    There have been no deaths at Escambia beaches where lifeguards
    are present, but most of the county's beaches remain unguarded.
    Each lifeguard stand covers about 200 yards and no more than two
    miles of beaches are guarded between the western tip of the
    Panhandle and Panama City Beach.
    Banjanin said he hopes the panel would look at various ideas
    including more county lifeguards, including for beaches in front of
    hotels which are reluctant to provide their own because of worries
    about liability. The hotels and other tourism-reliant businesses,
    however, should voluntarily pay the county's lifeguarding expenses,
    Banjanin said.
    "It certainly would be in the best interest of the tourism
    industry," he said.
    Panhandle tourism officials say the deaths have done nothing to
    keep visitors away but more people are asking about safety. Kim
    Lee, who answers phones at Okaloosa's visitor center at Fort Walton
    Beach, said she tells callers the deaths were an isolated
    circumstance and local waters have been safe.
    Gulf waters, however, are deceptive because rip currents can
    develop suddenly, said the Lifesaving Association's Brewster. They
    are fast-moving underwater streams caused when water brought in by
    waves returns to the sea through breaks in sandbars.
    "It's like a toilet flushing," Brewster said.
    Swimming against the current can cause fatigue and panic, so
    people should swim parallel to shore to escape, according to
    warning signs and brochures tourists often fail to read or heed.
    "I didn't know what the flags meant," said Mary Crowder, 53, a
    secretary-bookkeeper from Little Rock, Ark. One green flag flew on
    a pole behind and another at the end of a pier in front of her at
    Pensacola Beach. "I thought it might be Florida's color or
    something. It didn't mean a thing to me."
    She and her husband, Luke Crowder, a 53-year-old salesman,
    apparently never noticed an explanatory sign beside the walkway
    from the parking lot to the beach. He said they received no warning
    information at their hotel or if they did, they never noticed it.
    Sandy Johnston, executive director of the Pensacola Beach
    Chamber of Commerce, said she supports a decision by the Escambia
    County Tourist Development Council to spend emergency marketing
    money to counter media coverage of the drowning deaths if tourists
    should stay away.
    "Any kind of bad publicity can hurt the bottom line," Johnston
    But Brewster called it "reckless and negligent" to attract
    people to beaches protected only by flags and signs. "This
    short-cut approach to water safety is a recipe for disaster," he
    said. "That fact is clearly underscored by the outcome."
    On the Net:
    U.S. Lifesaving Association: http://www.usla.org
    End Advance

    (Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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  • captstanm1
    Florida Waters take another life

    Man drowns in Charlotte Harbor

    CHARLOTTE HARBOR -- A mentally challenged 18-year-old man drowned Tuesday night when he waded out too far into Charlotte Harbor, according to the Charlotte County Sheriff's Office.
    Two patrons of the Charlotte Harbor Raw Bar reportedly saw the man walking in shallow water behind the Harbour Inn Motel around 6:30 p.m. Minutes later, the man had wandered too far from shore and called for help, according to Charlotte County Fire & EMS spokesperson Dee Hawkins.
    The men went to call 911 and returned to find the man nowhere in sight. The man was last seen about 100 feet from shore.
    Authorities with the Charlotte County Sheriff's Office and Punta Gorda Police Department launched an air and water search. Divers from a Punta Gorda joint fire/police dive team found the body about 300 feet from shore at 7:55 p.m., in about 7 feet of water.
    Authorities aren't releasing the man's name. He hadn't been in the area long and was staying at the Harbour Inn next to the raw bar, according to Charlotte County Sheriff's spokesman Bob Carpenter.
    The motel manager refused to comment.
    A woman who works for an agency that assists the mentally challenged reportedly identified the man.
    You can e-mail Garry Overbey at [email protected]
    Staff Writer

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  • NJFFSA16
    Late Tuesday 6/10 Update

    PENSACOLA, Fla. (AP) - The drowning toll from a weekend of
    stormy weather that churned the surf along the beaches of the
    Florida Panhandle rose to nine Tuesday.
    The toll included two deaths at a hospital Tuesday and one
    Sunday that was not initially disclosed by hospital officials.
    Two other swimmers remained hospitalized Tuesday, one on life
    support and the other in fair condition, said Walton County
    sheriff's spokesman Dennis Wise.
    Officials said hundreds of people swam Sunday and Monday despite
    red flags warning them to keep out of the water, where wind-whipped
    waves created dangerous riptides.
    Among those who died Tuesday was Ken Brindley, 36, of Conway,
    Ark., officials said. He and another victim, Larry LaMotte, 60, of
    Atlanta, had gone into the water trying to rescue LaMotte's
    12-year-old son.
    LaMotte, a former CNN bureau chief, died Sunday but other
    beachgoers saved his son.
    Brindley, married with two children, was a salesman for an
    information technology company in Little Rock, Ark.
    Other victims identified Tuesday were Shalyn Cuadrdo, for whom
    no age and hometown were immediately available; and Bob Hehmeyer of
    St. Louis, who was in his early 50s.
    The latest deaths pushed the toll on Panhandle beaches this year
    to 14.

    (Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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  • captstanm1
    Update...Death Toll Increases...Several Others In Hospital


    Six drown, dozens rescued along beaches in Panhandle
    By Associated Press
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published June 10, 2003

    GRAYTON BEACH - People were yelling, "Call 911! We need help!" A young surfer in the Gulf of Mexico heard the commotion and saw people pointing to a spot about 50 yards away.

    Theo Laurent, 16, swiftly paddled his board there and found two men floating face-down in the roiling surf. He turned them over and struggled to keep their heads above water.

    One of the men, former CNN journalist Larry LaMotte, was among six who drowned Sunday and Monday on Florida Panhandle beaches. The other, Ken Brindley, of Conway, Ark., was one of four swimmers who remained at Sacred Heart Hospital in Pensacola on Monday.

    "When I got to both of those guys, they were 100 percent unconscious," Laurent said Monday. "There was nothing, no response at all."

    Nearly 40 other people were rescued along a 30-mile stretch of beach in two counties Sunday. Brindley, listed in critical condition, had tried to save LaMotte, said Walton County sheriff's spokesman Dennis Wise. LaMotte, 60, of Atlanta joined CNN in 1980 and was one of the cable network's first bureau chiefs in Dallas. He later headed bureaus in Los Angeles and Washington. He no longer worked for CNN, spokeswoman Megan Mahoney said.

    The others who drowned Sunday:

    Marietta Yakstis, 62, of Illinois, at Eastern Lake.

    David Huang, 40, of Houston, at Fort Panic at Dune Allen Beach.

    Curtis Corhan, 53, of Bunker Creek, at Blue Mountain Beach.

    Marla Amos, 31, of Sellersburg, Ind., at Destin, in Okaloosa County.

    Monday's death:

    David Victor Dotson, 66, of Milton, off Pensacola Beach in Escambia County.

    It was the worst day in memory for Walton County, where at least 32 rescues were made and four of the victims, including LaMotte, drowned, said Michael P. Kane, deputy chief of the South Walton Fire District. Usually shifting winds had been blowing steadily from the southwest for several days, causing waves to reach 4 to 5 feet, said Brad Pickel, beach manager for Beaches of South Walton, a tourist development agency.

    Thunderstorms kept most people out of the water until Sunday when the sun came out.

    The waves sent walls of water over sandbars toward shore. It had nowhere to go but back into the gulf through channels between the sand bars, creating rapid underwater rivers known as rip currents, said Pickel.

    The currents pull swimmers out to sea. Trying to swim against the current usually is futile, resulting in exhaustion and panic. Experts advise swimming parallel to shore to get out of the current, but many tourists are ignorant of that advice.

    Red flags warning people to stay out of the water were flying on the beaches where the drownings happened. Some people ignored them, and others got into trouble when they tried to help swimmers caught in the currents.

    "You see people out there, and it's a fun time," Kim Hudgens, 35, of Columbus, Ga., said Monday. She was in the water with her four children Sunday and witnessed LaMotte's drowning.

    "Yes, we saw the red flag and we ignored it, and I'm sad to say that," she said.

    After the first drowning, a sheriff's helicopter flew over the beach with a loudspeaker warning people to get out of the water. So did firefighters, between rescues. Most swimmers got out but many later returned, Kane said.

    "It's kind of like, "Mom's not watching,' " he said. "Outside of personally grabbing people and physically dragging them to shore, I don't know what the heck we can do."

    Walton County has no lifeguards. Kriss Titus, executive director of Beach of South Walton, paused a long time when asked why.

    "Drownings are not something that happens often," she finally said. "The red flag system, the signage and brochures have worked so far."

    Walton had only one drowning this year before Sunday, none last year and only two since 1996.

    About 50 miles west of Walton, 21 people have drowned over the past 21/2 years off Santa Rosa Island, all on unguarded beaches and most victims of rip currents.

    Laurent, a teen of about 135 pounds, said a sheriff's helicopter circled overhead as he tried to hold the victims' heads above water until another man swam out to help.

    "He was a tourist and he was coughing and stuff, so I just told him to go in because he was going to seriously drown, too," Laurent said. "I was trying my hardest not to drown because, like, the waves were crashing over me."

    Finally, two men came on surfboards and took over until fire and sheriff's rescuers arrived.

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  • captstanm1
    Associate Press from AOL News

    Five Drown in Florida Panhandle Waters

    DESTIN, Fla. (AP) - At least five people drowned and dozens more required rescue within a 12-hour period after two days of stormy weather churned the surf off the beaches near this Florida Panhandle town, officials said.

    A sheriff's helicopter flew along the beach Sunday and warned people to stay out of the water. Red flags cautioning swimmers of dangerous conditions were flying on the second day of wild weather.

    ``We've had a very, very busy day,'' said Walton County Sheriff's Capt. Danny Glidewell. ``I've been here a long time, and I don't remember any day as bad as this.''

    In Walton County, at least 28 people were pulled from the water by sheriff's officials and the South Walton Fire Department. In neighboring Okaloosa County, at least 10 were rescued from the churning waters.

    The victims ranged in age from 9 to 62; four were visiting the area from other states, including Illinois, Texas, Georgia and Indiana, officials said.

    06/09/03 03:55 EDT

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  • NJFFSA16
    started a topic Rough weekend in FL waters-5 Dead

    Rough weekend in FL waters-5 Dead

    DESTIN, Fla. (AP) - Five people drowned and nearly 40 people
    were rescued Sunday from rough waters off this Florida Panhandle
    beach town, officials said.
    Marietta Yakstis, 62, of Illinois drowned at Eastern Lake; David
    Huang, 40, of Houston drowned at Fort Panic at Dune Allen Beach;
    Larry LaMotte, 60, of Atlanta drowned at Grayton Beach; and an
    unidentified fourth person, drowned at Blue Mountain Beach.
    Maura Amos of Sellersburg, Ind., was pulled from the churning
    surf along with a 9-year-old boy who is apparently her son, said
    Sgt. Rick Hord of the Okaloosa County Sheriff's Office. Amos was
    pronounced dead at Sacred Heart hospital, but the boy is expected
    to recover fully.
    "We've had a very, very busy day," said Walton County
    Sheriff's Capt. Danny Glidewell. "I've been here a long time, and
    I don't remember any day as bad as this."
    A sheriff's helicopter flew along the beach and warned people to
    stay out of the water. Red flags cautioning swimmers of dangerous
    conditions were flying Sunday after two days of stormy weather
    churned the surf.
    In Walton County, at least 28 people were pulled from the water
    by officials with the Walton County Sheriff's Office and the South
    Walton Fire Department.
    In neighboring Okaloosa County, at least 10 were rescued from
    the churning waters.
    Amos, who is in her 20s or early 30s, and the boy, Michael
    Alexander, were traveling together on vacation, Hord said.
    Authorities called family members in Indiana, some of whom were en
    route to the hospital Sunday night, Hord said.

    (Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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