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Man who rescued drowning baby drew on past experience

Dimitri Kalogiannis was given an award by the Pasco sheriff.

Dimitri Kalogiannis was given an award by the Pasco sheriff.

Dimitri Kalogiannis remembers he was admiring a friend's Ford Galaxie 500 that balmy evening. It was the middle of June last year. He had just turned 19. The sun was sinking over their boater-friendly neighborhood, where streets alternate with canals. That's when he heard the shrieks.

From his side of the canal, Kalogiannis saw two women standing on the opposite sea wall crying for help. A man and a baby were in the water.

"It didn't seem like the guy was trying enough. It didn't seem like he could, like he was able to," Kalogiannis said.

The baby floated facedown at first. Someone called 911. Kalogiannis dove in. That quick decision is why, last week, he was honored by the Pasco Sheriff's Office with a plaque.

But Kalogiannis has been thrust in the eye of his community before, in the best and worst ways. His hands have held trophies. They've been in handcuffs.

What light can society cast when a man in a mugshot goes on to save a life?

• • •

Two years and five months earlier, he stood in a dinghy, bobbing over frigid Spring Bayou. He was 16 and it was the 104th Epiphany celebration in Tarpon Springs.

He and 65 other boys from Greek Orthodox churches formed a ring in the water.

Thousands of spectators stood at the water's edge. His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios, primate of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, tossed a white wooden cross into the water and the 66 boys plunged in after it.

• • •

Kalogiannis reached under tiny arms and lifted the 14-month-old boy to a relative. A deputy arrived and revived the toddler.

The boy's father, Kevin Geddes, 39, had been drinking all day, a Pasco sheriff's report states. He had scooped up the baby then stumbled over the sea wall.

The baby was flown to a local hospital. Geddes was arrested on a charge of child neglect. TV news anchors lauded Kalogiannis for "quick thinking" and "heroism."

• • •

Seventeen seconds after the 66 boys dove into Spring Bayou, Kalogiannis broke the surface holding the white cross. He was the first in his family and the first member of St. George Greek Orthodox Church in Port Richey to catch the cross.

"To be the first from my church, it's an honor," Kalogiannis said at the time, while church members kissed the cross. "It's an honor for my family."

His father called it overwhelming. His mother hugged him and called him a great kid. Other divers hoisted him on their shoulders as they paraded up Tarpon Avenue.

He got a trophy, roughly the size of the Wimbledon Cup. At 16, a junior at Gulf High School at the time, the spotlight shined on him for the first time.

• • •

Last May, Kalogiannis hit what he agrees was his all-time low.

He was driving his BMW up U.S. 19 in Tarpon Springs when he came to a DUI checkpoint. Deputies found joint-rolling papers in his lap and a pinch of marijuana in the car's center console, according to a Pinellas County Sheriff's report.

A month later, he would save the baby. "I just don't know what to say about those two different events happening," he said. "It was just completely opposite."

Kalogiannis is 20 now. His golden hair is longer. He has since graduated high school and has been working odd jobs.

"It was kind of the same situation," he said last week of both awards. "I jumped in, I grabbed whatever I needed to grab, and I got the job done."

Because he was arrested in a different county, the Pasco sheriff had no idea of his prior record before giving him the Citizen Service Award. Spokeswoman Melanie Snow said it wouldn't have made a difference.

"It doesn't change the fact that he rescued a baby," she said. "That was a commendable thing to have done."

Times researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this report.

Man who rescued drowning baby drew on past experience 07/16/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 16, 2013 10:03pm]
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