TAMPA — At first, the Port Tampa Bay workers thought the man bobbing in McKay Bay on Friday afternoon was a swimmer. He wore a bathing suit and had the slender body of a devoted athlete.
But as minutes passed, it became clear that Aaron Branham Roush, 48, wasn't swimming, but floating, police said. The former physician's bicycle was chained up near Guy N. Verger Boulevard and Barge Avenue, and his clothes were neatly folded and stacked nearby.
Roush's death is now another mystery in a life that had become plagued with loss and legal trouble.
Two years ago, Roush lost his medical license for inappropriately prescribing controlled substances to patients. Over the past decade, he had mourned the loss of his only brother, his only son and his only stalwart companion, a bichon frise named Duke. It had been about five years since he had seen or spoken to his daughter after she left with her mother during an acrimonious divorce, and only a few months since he filed a domestic violence suit against a new girlfriend.
Still, Roush's father says he believes his son's death was just a tragic accident.
"He was a strong swimmer, and used to tell me all the time about his midnight swims in the ocean," said Paul Roush. "If someone was committing suicide, why would you chain your bike up or fold up your clothes? And if you were committing suicide, you wouldn't choose to drown. That would be a rough way to go."
The cause of Roush's death is unclear. Tampa police said there were no signs of foul play, but are awaiting a toxicology report from the medical examiner's office. Paul Roush said investigators told him his son could have drowned in a rip current or after a "medical event" like a heart attack.
"But we may never know what really happened," Paul Roush said. "He went through some hard years and never seemed to get quite back on his feet."
After completing seven years in the Army Reserves and graduating from the University of California at Santa Cruz and New York Medical College, state Board of Medicine records show Roush came to Florida in 1996 to complete a surgical internship and residency through the University of South Florida and Tampa General Hospital
But, starting with a DUI arrest in 1997, he also had a history of legal troubles in Hillsborough and Polk counties, culminating with a 2013 undercover investigation into his medical practice.
He was working as a pain management doctor at the Uphoria Medical Spa in Lakeland when he was arrested in March 2013 on charges related to over-prescribing controlled substances and prescribing medication without conducting a proper examination. Undercover detectives with the Polk County Sheriff's Office posed as patients and reported paying Roush cash to receive pain pill prescriptions. A search of his car turned up illegal and controlled substances, including methamphetamine, marijuana, Xanax and Valium, the agency reported.
Roush pleaded guilty to a felony and was sentenced to five years of probation, which was scheduled to end March 2020. Then, in July 2013, his 10-year-old son Hunter died in a boating accident in Winter Haven.
In June 2015, he voluntarily gave up his license to practice medicine.
Aaron Roush still struggled. He was arrested in Polk County on August 23 for violating probation, but he was also making strides toward developing a new future, his father said. He was looking at selling his downtown Tampa condo and moving to California to be closer to his mother, Paul Roush said. He was also talking with Doctors Without Borders about a potential job and had recently been told the program would accept him despite his history.
"He just had a lot of possibilities he was just starting to look into," Paul Roush said. "I was really hoping he could get a fresh start."
Senior news researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Contact Anastasia Dawson at [email protected] or (813) 226-3377. Follow @adawsonwrites.