Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

One last dive before docking leaves man paralyzed

Scott Luders Jr. and his fiancee, Austin Oliver, spent the Fourth of July swimming and walking on the beach, collecting sand dollars and sea shells at Anclote Island.

That evening, they boarded Luders' father's boat for the return trip to Holiday. As the father guided his 17-foot sea ray bow rider inland, the boat idled about 100 feet from the shore.

Luders, 24, dived off the bow for one last swim.

But the water there was only a few feet deep. Luders hit the sandy sea bottom with his head.

"I couldn't turn my body left or right," Luders recalled from Bayfront Medical Center in St. Petersburg. "I was trying to swish my arms so I could flip over and yell to them that something was wrong, but I couldn't."

Luders had shattered a vertebrae and the shards punctured his spinal cord. He became paralyzed from the waist down.

Doctors give him a 5 percent chance of walking again.

Luders, who waits tables at an Applebee's near his home in Virginia, was three months away from qualifying for health insurance through his job.

His father is an unemployed chef who runs a flea market booth in Oldsmar. His family can't pay his hospital bills.

His fiancee is devastated.

"I'm broken-hearted," said Oliver, 20. "He's so full of life, and he can't even move now."

• • •

Luders' parents divorced when he was 2. He lived with his mother in New Jersey and visited his father once a year in Florida. When his mother moved to Richmond a few years ago, he followed.

His father put him in swimming classes when he was 3 years old. As a teenager, he played shortstop on his high school baseball team, and was a running back on the football team. He loves Pink Floyd and Tool.

Earlier this year, he met Oliver through mutual friends.

"We just hit it off," Oliver said. "We've been inseparable."

He and his fiancee flew to Florida on June 29. They swam with manatees in the Weeki Wachee River. On July 4, they bought fireworks to light on their boat trip with Luders' father and his girlfriend, Lisa Button; and Luders' uncle, Michael Luders.

Instead, the fiancee, father and uncle found themselves diving into the water to help Luders. They slowly flipped him on his back so he could breathe above the water. Then Luders had a seizure.

"He said he couldn't feel his legs," Oliver said. "He was crying. He said, 'I'm really scared.' I told him, 'It's going to be okay.' "

Speaking Friday from the hospital, Luders said the pain he's experiencing is sometimes excruciating. He is praying that he regains movement.

"It's definitely overwhelming," he said. "I've got future plans for the rest of my life."

• • •

It's uncertain when Luders will get out of the hospital, or where he'll live when he does.

Scott Luders Sr. is adamant about bringing his son home with him. But the father and the uncle rent a small, two-bedroom house in Holiday that isn't handicap-accessible.

Oliver headed back to Virginia this week to get some of her belongings and move to Florida to be with her fiance.

She's got plans for the fireworks that they never got to light on July 4. "We'll save them for when he gets better," she said, "and have a huge party."

Camille C. Spencer can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6229.

>>Fast Facts

To help

If you'd like to donate to the Luders family, call Scott Luders Sr. at (727) 514-5399.

One last dive before docking leaves man paralyzed 07/11/08 [Last modified: Monday, July 14, 2008 8:19pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Clearwater eyes hiring new downtown director within two months

    CLEARWATER — Now that the city director tasked with revitalizing downtown has resigned after his arrest on a battery charge during Oktoberfest, City Manager Bill Horne said the goal is to not leave the position vacant long.

    Clearwater Assistant City Manager  Micah Maxwell will oversee downtown until the city hires a replacement for Seth Taylor.
  2. Tampa Bay's Top 100 Workplaces deadline extended to Nov. 17


    Think you work at one of the best places in Tampa Bay? You've got a little more time to make a pitch.

    Penny Hoarder and Gregory, Sharer & Stuart were among those at an event in Tampa last May honoring winners of the Tampa Bay Times Top Workplaces awards. Nominations are now open for this year.  
[OCTAVIO JONES   |   Times]
  3. Little separates McElwain and Muschamp eras of futility at Florida


     Florida Gators head coach Jim McElwain watches the second quarter of the Florida Gators game against Texas A&M, at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, in Gainesville.
  4. Tampa-based Checkers testing delivery, aims for record expansion


    TAMPA — Tampa-based Checkers Drive-In Restaurants continues to fly under the radar compared to dominant burger chains like McDonald's and Burger King.

    Checkers Franchisee Shaji Joseph, of Tampa, hoses down the front walkway of his store at 6401 Park Boulevard, Pinellas Park. The business has a new look including signage and exterior tile. One drive through has been eliminated for an outdoor dining area, right. Joseph owns nine Checkers and is planning to open his tenth in Tampa.
[SCOTT KEELER   |   Times ]
  5. What you need to know for Friday, Oct. 20


    Catching you up on overnight happenings, and what you need to know today

    At last year's Dia de los Muertos, Casa Tina owner Tina Marie Avila (crouching) shows her "Ofrenda," or Day of the Dead alter. What would have been the 25th annual Dia de los Muertos Fiesta on Saturday had to be canceled this year because of Hurricane Irma. The folk festival will be back next year.
 [JIM DAMASKE  |  Times (2016)]