Saturday, January 20, 2018
Public safety

When rip currents turn deadly: A list of those who died

Tampa Bay area beaches seldom experience the dangerous rip currents that plague Florida's east coast, but they're not unheard of here.

Last week in North Pinellas County was a reminder. Two people drowned during rough weather. Largo resident Isam Rizkallah, 58, jumped from his boat near Honeymoon Island to rescue his dog on June 10. Three days later Gainesville, Ga., resident Ryan Terry drowned 30 yards off the shore of Clearwater Beach, near Idlewild Street. In both cases, officials cited strong currents as a factor in their deaths.

According to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, 297 people died in Florida because of rip currents between 1999 and 2013.

A rip current forms when water brought in by waves rushes back out to sea in a river-like fashion through a channel that runs along a deep spot on the ocean floor. On this coast, longshore currents are a more common threat. These occur during winter cold fronts and summer tropical storms and run parallel to shore.

They sometimes are strong enough to knock an adult off his feet.

Here some tip for dealing with rip or longshore currents:

• If you are caught in a rip, don't fight it. Swim parallel to shore or float away from shore until you feel the current slack. Then swim on an angled line toward the beach.

• Swim near a lifeguard. If no lifeguard is on duty, think twice about entering the water on a rough day if you're not an experienced swimmer.

• Be wary of water that leaves a foamy trail out to sea. You can also sight a rip current because it will often be a different color from the other water around it.

• Call 911 if someone is in trouble, then try to throw the person a flotation device.

Notable riptide deaths in the area and beyond

July 2013: Dushay Nelson, 14, of Winter Haven drowns off Anna Maria Island, in Manatee County. An adult cousin, Richard Aveiles, sees Dushay and his 12-year-old brother, Deandre, struggling. He rescues Deandre but cannot reach Dushay, who is swept away by a powerful rip current.

• April 2013: Lamontea Taylor, 6, drowns off Bradenton Beach. Rip currents had swept the children south toward Longboat Pass, the strait between Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key that is off limits to swimmers because of the treacherous currents. Three of the children are rescued but emergency responders could not find Lamontea.

• June 2012: Within an hour, seven people in two locations are trapped in currents off Pass-a-Grille in St. Pete Beach in the wake of Tropical Storm Debby. In the first case, two men are pulled to safety by beachgoers. In the second, a family of five is swept away from shore. Four are saved in a dramatic rescue, but Kimela Walker, 41, from Alabama, later dies.

• April 2012: Alan B. Hall, of Land O' Lakes, drowns while saving a 5-year-old girl off Honeymoon Island State Park. Hall, 65, is walking on the beach near Hurricane Pass when he and his wife see three young children being pulled out to sea. The children's parents plucked two of them from the water. Hall goes after the third. He nudges 5-year-old Ruby Monahan toward shore before he, too, becomes caught in the current. In 2013, the Pittsburgh-based Carnegie Hero Fund Commission named Hall as one of 22 recipients of the Carnegie Medal.

September 2011: A rip current in the waters off Daytona Beach pulls 4-year-old Joseph Kerr away from shore. Richard Kerr, 40, of New Tampa swims to his youngest son and lifts him onto his back. "Don't let go," he tells the child. Joseph rides his father's back until the current drives them into the path of a surfer. By then, Kerr is completely submerged but his son is still safe. Rescuers get Joseph back to shore with only a scratch on his forearm. Kerr is pronounced dead at Florida Hospital Oceanside minutes before the family was originally scheduled to leave the beach to return to Tampa.

• 2010: In August, five members of the Pardo family of Lutz are swept out to sea while standing in waist-high water on a beach head at the north end of Anna Maria Island, in Manatee County. Josefina Pardo, 71, and Gerado Hernandez, believed to be in his 60s, die. In July, Terry Cox, 50, drowns when he is apparently swept away by rip currents while wade-fishing off the southern shoreline off the Intracoastal Waterway.

• May 2008: Two vacationers from New York drown while swimming off Longboat Key. John Larry, 48, of New York, and Christopher Gugliozza, 52, Tonawanda, N.Y. are believed to have been caught in a rip current while swimming in the Gulf of Mexico behind the hotel where they were staying in Sarasota County.

• March 2005: A 69-year-old British tourist drowns in high surf off Madeira Beach, possibly the victim of a rip current. Fred Parry is swimming with three friends in chest-deep water when witnesses hear him yelling for help. Parry drifted several blocks before friends, using borrowed body boards, bring him to shore. He is pronounced dead at Palms of Pasadena Hospital.

• July 2004: Dominic Giunta, a 55-year-old retired guidance counselor from Lutz, dies saving an 8-year-old boy off Honeymoon Island State Park. Patricia Ballard and four children, ages 8 to 17, are sucked into a current that sweeps them 40 yards offshore and 150 yards down the beach. Ballard, 52, and two children make it to shore, but the youngest and oldest boys struggle. Guinta pulls 8-year-old David Perry into his arms and holds him above the water. Ballard swims out and takes the boy to shore. The 17-year-old also makes it back but Giunta does not. Bystanders find him floating face-down in the water.

Information from the Bradenton Herald, Sarasota Herald-Tribune and Charlotte Sun was used in this report.

     
 
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