Saturday, January 20, 2018
Public safety

Tampa man found dead in bay after boat accident

TAMPA — The date had been set. At 1 p.m. Thursday, George Zutes and his son, Christopher, were going fishing near Tarpon Springs.

Instead, the father was at home planning his son's funeral.

Christopher Zutes spent the Fourth of July jetskiing and hanging out on his boat with friends. About 7 p.m., he was heading toward a marina alone when the boat hit something on the east side of Old Tampa Bay. The impact threw him overboard, where he was struck by his own vessel, his father said.

A friend, who had watched from nearby, jumped in and tried to find him. For the next six hours, officers from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Tampa Police and the U.S. Coast Guard searched for him.

Divers found Zutes' body about 1 a.m. He was 28.

On Thursday, loved ones were coping with the loss. They described Zutes as an avid boater who loved his family and career.

"He was my best friend," his father said through tears. "He was just the most lovable guy. It's just a shame."

Tuesday was the last time Zutes saw his son. Christopher, his parents, his sister and his girlfriend dined at Boca in Tampa, celebrating the parents' 35th wedding anniversary.

The father and son celebrated Independence Day apart. George Zutes went on a boating trip with his wife, Lucinda, and Christopher's godfather, George Stamas. Christopher headed to a friend's house in South Tampa.

Stamas said he was watching fireworks from his Tarpon Springs home after the trip when Zutes called. Christopher was missing.

Zutes headed to Tampa. He watched rescuers search for his only son.

"We still had hope that maybe he just got out," he said. "We were still hoping he would be okay."

But at 1:15 a.m., a Tampa police officer told the family the grim news.

Christopher lived in South Tampa on Santiago Street with a friend in a two-story house with a porch swing.

For the past four years, he worked as a senior field engineer at the Whiting-Turner Contracting Co. in Tampa.

"He was doing great," Stamas said. "He had a super job. Loved what he was doing."

Zutes grew up on the water. He often tagged along with his father and godfather on fishing trips. About six months ago, he purchased his own 20-foot flats boat. A photograph on his Facebook page shows Christopher, wearing sunglasses and smiling widely, on a boat.

"It was just a stupid freak accident," his father said.

The wildlife commission is investigating the crash. Officials were interviewing witnesses and searching the water for any evidence not collected Wednesday night in the dark, spokesman Baryl Martin said.

Zutes and his family now face Christopher's funeral. Arrangements, still pending, will be handled by Thomas B. Dobies Funeral Home in Tarpon Springs.

On Thursday, the family went shopping for the clothes he will wear. A priest visited their home. The phone rang continuously.

When he thought about Christopher's death, Stamas paused.

"You just don't know the answer to why these things happen like this."

News researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Laura C. Morel can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8713.

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