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Man who couldn't swim drowns

Jimmy Garvison and Wayne Stringer were wading in shallow water Friday along the banks of the Withlacoochee River when Garvison stepped off a ledge into deep water.

Garvison, who had been drinking beer and could not swim, disappeared in the murky green water about 1 p.m., authorities said. Stringer, a friend of Garvison's, could not find him.

Divers from the Pasco County Sheriff's Office began trolling the river east of U.S. 301 along the Hernando-Pasco border, an area lined with oak and pine trees where local residents often swim.

The search ended about 8 p.m. when divers found the body of Garvison, 27, of 38347 County Road 575, Lacoochee. The medical examiner's office will conduct an autopsy.

The man's mother and some of his 10 brothers and sisters, most of whom live in Lacoochee, gathered Friday afternoon on the shoulder of U.S. 301 waiting for the body to be found. They sat in lawn chairs, drank Mountain Dew and tried not to think the worst.

"I'm not giving up hope," said Loretta Garvison, 21, one of his sisters.

"We're holding up right now," said Karena Hayes, 23, another sister. "We're taking all we can."

Garvison lived with his mother, Nellie, 56, who sat with her family and tried to hold back tears. Friends and relatives, who joined family members near the river, hugged and comforted her. She was too distraught to talk.

Garvison loved to fish, garden and ride his bike. He often came to the swimming hole where he disappeared. When he went fishing, he often would come home proudly carrying catfish.

He grew up in Lacoochee, went to Lacoochee Elementary and dropped out of Pasco High School, family members said. He did not work, and occasionally did odd jobs.

Garvison also liked to drink, family members and authorities said. They said he had been drinking before arriving at the river.

As they sat alongside the fast-moving Withlacoochee on Friday afternoon, Stringer and Garvison downed quarts of beer. Garvison went into the water to cool off, authorities said. He apparently stepped off a ledge into 30 feet of water.

When Stringer lost sight of Garvison, he jumped on his bike and rode home. About 40 minutes after Garvison went under, Stringer called 911.

Detectives from the Hernando County Sheriff's Office investigated and were questioning Stringer on Friday evening.

"He's a good person," said Freddie Hayes, 36, Garvison's brother-in-law.

"He's quiet, he keeps to himself and he helps his mama wash dishes and garden. He just likes his beer. Anytime, he just drinks."

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