Sunday, November 19, 2017
Public safety

Rescued canoeists 'took a wrong turn' on Hillsborough River's 17 Runs

RECOMMENDED READING


THONOTOSASSA — Amid the croaking of bullfrogs and whine of mosquitoes in the blackness of a Hillsborough County swamp, three men stood atop a floating log Monday night crying for help through a canopy of trees.

What was supposed to be a daytime canoe exploration of the upper Hillsborough River turned into a harrowing night in the wilderness for the trio. It ended early Tuesday when sheriff's deputies spotted them and guided them back to dry land.

"We took a wrong turn, simple as that," said Andrew Sadberry, 26, who had navigated swamps by canoe before, but never this one. "I never want to do that again."

Sadberry and his two friends, Robert Romero, 36, and Michael Silhol, 22, set out Monday afternoon from Hillsborough River State Park. It was the first day of a vacation for the three, who met at the Columbia in Ybor City, where they worked as waiters.

They intended to wend their way through the labyrinthine waterways in what is known as the 17 Runs, a remote section of more than a dozen inlets off the main river. Between them, they had two life jackets, one pair of shoes and a cellphone.

They moved past a sign warning that the water was for experienced paddlers only. Nearby, another declared, "Abandon all hope, ye who enter here."

Shortly before dusk, they were lost. The men kept paddling until they reached a dead end of an inlet. They climbed out and trudged through the swamp, headed toward the distant sound of traffic along U.S. 301.

"It's just like being lost in the woods; it's easy to become disoriented," sheriff's spokesman Larry McKinnon said. "You add darkness to that and it makes it even worse."

The trees were too thick, the night too dark. Fearing an alligator encounter, the trio assembled atop a 15-foot log.

From their dying cellphone, they called 911. A search was launched. Dispatchers told the men to continue calling 911 every 30 minutes. Using the phone's signal, deputies were able to target an approximate search area.

Through the branches and vines, the boats and canoes of searchers glided over the river waters. Overhead, the men heard a sheriff's helicopter.

A search team from the sheriff's marine unit found the canoe about 1 a.m. They could hear the men yelling for help and kept in contact with them, shouting back and forth until daybreak, when they could be spotted, Deputy Michael Wright said.

Just before sunrise, deputies guided the three from the log back to their canoe. With two deputies leading the way, they paddled for an hour to John B. Sargeant Park, where paramedics and TV news cameras awaited.

"I'm definitely not going to hit this river for a good long bit," Romero said as a blood pressure cuff squeezed his left arm.

With the helicopter in the air for about nine hours, the search amounted to about $10,000, sheriff's officials said — the anticipated cost of a lifesaving effort.

Afterward, the three gulped bottles of water and recounted the ordeal before paramedics declared they were okay. In the light of the morning sun, they stepped up the sandy parking lot and spoke of breakfast and sleep.

"I'm going to the beach next time," Sadberry said.

Times staff writer Keeley Sheehan contributed to this report.

Comments
Two unhurt after small plane clips tree during emergency landing in Clearwater

Two unhurt after small plane clips tree during emergency landing in Clearwater

CLEARWATER — Two men walked away unhurt from a small airplane after it clipped a tree and spun around as the pilot tried to make an emergency landing on Keene Road, deputies said.Pilot Marc Benedict, 61, and passenger Gregory Guinee, 55, of Clearwate...
Updated: 1 hour ago
On the night shift in Seminole Heights, Tampa police keep watch for a killer

On the night shift in Seminole Heights, Tampa police keep watch for a killer

TAMPATampa Police Lt. Gary Neal is almost halfway into his shift when the shots ring out.He jumps into his white 2016 Dodge Charger and races the few blocks from District 3 headquarters to the scene of a drive-by shooting in a city rattled by a strin...
Published: 11/18/17
Tampa couple recounts wrong-way DUI crash on Courtney Campbell Causeway

Tampa couple recounts wrong-way DUI crash on Courtney Campbell Causeway

TAMPA — Police arrested a 26-year-old man they say drove the wrong way while drunk and caused a multi-vehicle crash that injured several people late Friday on the Courtney Campbell Causeway.Collin John Cole faces two counts of driving under the influ...
Published: 11/18/17
Boater missing in waters north of Bradenton, dog found alive

Boater missing in waters north of Bradenton, dog found alive

CORTEZ — The Coast Guard and others are scouring the waters near Mead Point, just inland from Anna Maria Island, for a 63-year-old boater who has been missing since Friday evening. Fraser Horne of Cortez left Egmont Key on his 30-foot boat, Golden Ru...
Published: 11/18/17
Romano: Hunting for a deadly needle in the Seminole Heights haystack

Romano: Hunting for a deadly needle in the Seminole Heights haystack

During the day, you hear from the psychics and the kooks. The well-intentioned tipsters, and the unsolicited profilers. This is all part of serial killer spillover, a sort of cottage industry of macabre.It gets tougher at night when you’re hounded by...
Published: 11/17/17
Updated: 11/18/17

Possible wrong-way crash on Courtney Campbell Causeway late Friday

TAMPA — A multi-vehicle crash on the Courtney Campbell Causeway late Friday may have been caused by a driver traveling in the wrong direction, Tampa police said.The crash occurred in the eastbound lanes closer to the Tampa side of the causeway, near ...
Published: 11/17/17
Updated: 11/18/17
Tampa police investigate drive-by shooting in Seminole Heights

Tampa police investigate drive-by shooting in Seminole Heights

TAMPA — Police took one person into custody late Friday after a drive-by shooting ended in Seminole Heights.The incident, which unfolded about 11 p.m., did not appear to be related to the spate of other recent shootings in Seminole Heights that have ...
Published: 11/17/17
Updated: 11/18/17

Man hit, killed while crossing U.S. 19 in Palm Harbor

PALM HARBOR — A pedestrian died after he was hit by a vehicle Friday night, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.The man, who was not identified, was crossing U.S. 19 from west to east, north of Tampa Road in Palm Harbor about 8:30 p.m., troopers ...
Published: 11/17/17
19 digital billboards now spread word of reward in Seminole Heights killings

19 digital billboards now spread word of reward in Seminole Heights killings

TAMPA — To help spread the word about reward money offered in connection with four unsolved shooting deaths in Seminole Heights, two billboard companies have donated the use of a combined 19 digital billboards.On Thursday, police announced the reward...
Published: 11/17/17

Deputies: No injuries after reported gunshot near Seminole schools

SEMINOLE — Deputies are investigating a report of a gunshot that resulted in two schools being put on lockdown Friday morning. About 8:24 a.m., the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office received a call at Rita’s Italian Ice, 13147 86th Ave., in Seminole. ...
Published: 11/17/17