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Rabbinical student from Crown Heights dies in water scooter crash on Old Tampa Bay

TAMPA — Watching two young men skim across the water on scooters Sunday, Robyn Plemmons mused to a friend that it would be fun to try it herself.

She quickly had reason to reconsider.

"All of a sudden," she said, "it's like, kaboom."

The young men were riding water scooters almost parallel to each other on the north side of the Courtney Campbell Parkway. Then one turned, Plemmons said, into the other's path.

From her perch at the open-air bar at Bahama Breeze, she saw a man's body cartwheel through the air before landing facedown in the water.

He wore a life jacket, but lay there motionless as his friend sped away to get help.

"He never picked his head up," said Plemmons, who called 911.

Rescue officials said Nosson N. Deitsch, a 21-year-old rabbinical student from New York, appeared unconscious when boaters pulled him from the water and began CPR. The accident happened shortly before 3 p.m., and he was pronounced dead at St. Joseph's Hospital.

Police did not name the other rider, who was uninjured and talking with investigators.

They did not say whether he faced any criminal charges or if alcohol was involved.

Plemmons said the men rented the water scooters at the nearby Westin hotel. She said she met with investigators there to discuss what she witnessed.

The hotel manager on duty Sunday evening would not comment about the accident and declined to give his name.

Deitsch is from the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, the center of the ultra orthodox Jewish movement known as Chabad.

"He was a rabbinical student in Miami in South Beach and was to be ordained very shortly as a rabbi," said Rivka Schechter of Brooklyn, a relative by marriage. "He was a wonderful young man."

Her son, Shmuel Schechter, 22, was a close friend. He said Deitsch came from a prominent family in Crown Heights.

As is often the case in the Chabad movement, five of his six older brothers are rabbis, the sixth is planning to become a rabbi, and all five of his sisters are married to rabbis. His late father — an ordained rabbi, but not a practicing one — ran a textile business and was a leading philanthropist in Crown Heights.

Deitsch was energetic, optimistic, trustworthy and disciplined, Shmuel Schechter said. He routinely studied from 7:30 a.m. to 11 p.m., but was always in the loop with a good story or a bit of news no one else seemed to have heard. He spent the last several years of his life helping younger students.

"Nosson was a dream friend, what everybody could wish for as a best friend, a dream sibling, a dream son and somebody for younger students to look up to," Schechter said. "He showed that you could be cool and still have a good time in life."

Deitsch died on a Jewish holiday known as Lag b'Omer. He had come to Tampa to help with a Chabad celebration of the holiday, which is traditionally joyous and festive.

He had ridden a water scooter before, and Shmuel Schechter said Deitsch and his friends may have had a little time outside of helping with the celebration to go to the beach.

Back home in Crown Heights, where the Chabad community marked Lag b'Omer with a big parade, the timing of Deitsch's death "intensifies the shock and sadness everyone is experiencing after this terrible tragedy," said Motti Seligson, who works on the movement's website. "Nosson was a very special young man, from an extraordinarily kind and caring family. His loss is unfathomable."

Rabbinical student from Crown Heights dies in water scooter crash on Old Tampa Bay 05/02/10 [Last modified: Monday, May 3, 2010 12:04am]
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