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Alcohol a factor in USF student's deadly cavern dive

CHASSAHOWITZKA — Like many people who float, tube or boat along Florida's waterways, Amy Ryan drank a few beers the Sunday afternoon she drowned in a shallow-water cavern three weeks ago.

When she died April 17, Citrus County authorities said Friday, the 22-year-old's blood-alcohol concentration was 0.159 — double the level at which Florida law considers a person to be under the influence.

The University of South Florida senior's boyfriend, Steven Orosz, said Friday she drank about six beers over nearly seven hours. But she never appeared impaired, he said, and had easily swum through the cavern along the Chassahowitzka River just moments earlier.

"If I thought she was drunk or had lost her motor skills, I wouldn't have let her go through," said Orosz, 22. "She was my girlfriend."

Alcohol would hinder the motor skills and judgment of someone diving, just as with any other activity, said Hernando County Assistant Fire Rescue Chief Frank DeFrancesco, who noted he did not work on Ryan's case.

"The alcohol is going to affect your body and potentially kill you, whether you're diving or riding a bicycle or driving a motor vehicle," he said. "Anything that you're doing that requires your full attention, you should not be drinking."

Orosz said he and the couple with whom they were boating that afternoon also drank beer. Earlier in the day, they ate Publix sandwiches for lunch and swam in the Crystal River before heading to the Chassahowitzka and eventually to the underwater cavern.

Even kids regularly squirt through the short tunnel; it seemed safe. But on one trip just after 6 p.m., Ryan never emerged.

The cavern's mouth is 8 feet wide and just under 10 feet deep; it runs 15 feet or so underwater to its 3-foot-wide exit, where Orosz expected his girlfriend to surface. When she didn't, he said he dove in after her nearly 15 times.

About 25 minutes after Ryan vanished, a Citrus County firefighter pulled her from a tight, 15-foot-long offshoot gap, where she had apparently gotten lost.

The biology major was taken to Oak Hill Hospital in Spring Hill, where she was pronounced dead at 7:18 p.m.

Ryan, who maintained a 3.9 grade point average, was scheduled to graduate this past Wednesday. "It sucks," Orosz said. "That was the worst day."

John Woodrow Cox can be reached at jcox@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1432.

Alcohol a factor in USF student's deadly cavern dive 05/06/11 [Last modified: Friday, May 6, 2011 10:57pm]
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