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After collision, girls dive in to save man

It was pitch-black outside, perfect for stargazing.

Saturn was in perfect position. So were Henry "Keith" Cavaliere and his family, idling in a boat on the Gulf of Mexico off the Dunedin coast, watching the stars and enjoying the brisk night.

They were camping on an island in St. Joseph's Sound, south of the Dunedin Causeway. They were headed back to the campsite for the night at about 10:15 p.m.

That's when the boats collided.

"I didn't see it," Cavaliere said. "Maybe a split-second before it hit. If that."

Cavaliere remembers everything that happened next, but to him, the events could have spanned 10 days or 10 minutes.

Time stopped while he, his 15-year-old daughter Elizabeth and her best friend since the second grade, 14-year-old Hilary Roper, struggled in the dark and the cold to save the lives of two people they never knew.

Cavaliere, 40, who owns a construction remodeling business, is still amazed that the girls dove in the water to help rescue one of the victims.

He's not alone.

"If they didn't jump in, he probably would have drowned," said Ed Prouty, an investigator with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. "Would Dad have gotten over there in time with the boat? I don't know. They took out all the doubt by getting involved."

Getting involved, the girls say, was never a question. Because of the traumatic nature of the accident, their parents did not allow them to speak to the St. Petersburg Times but did permit them to share a few thoughts on what happened in a brief note.

"We were scared and in shock that it came upon us so suddenly," they wrote. "We didn't have time to think about ourselves. We just jumped in the water to get him out."

The collision occurred as Brian Rumble, 40, was taking his girlfriend of five years, Tammie Lynn Schmidt, back to shore after an evening spent at Caladesi Island State Park on Oct. 24.

Rumble has a 40-foot boat that he uses with friends. But for the short trip across the sound, he took a 10-foot dinghy, made of rubber and without lights.

Schmidt, 41, of Palm Harbor, had to be back to coach a cheerleading practice Saturday morning and couldn't spend the night at the park like the others. The two headed northeast in the sound at "high speed" according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Cavaliere, in his 19-foot white fiberglass boat, was moving slowly southeast. He had his lights on, and a party of five, along with a 3-year-old yellow Labrador named Hobie, was standing in the boat.

Rumble can't remember how it happened, but according to authorities, he ran into Cavaliere's boat. Rumble and Schmidt were thrown into the water.

"We spun around in a circle immediately after he hit us," Cavaliere said. "When we righted, we lit the area with a spotlight."

There they saw Rumble's boat spinning out of control. The engine's propeller cut his neck as he flapped in the water.

Nearby, Schmidt was floating facedown.

"You could see he was in better condition," Prouty said.

"So we came alongside her and I lifted her and my daughter helped me get her into the boat," Cavaliere said. "She wasn't moving. I started to administer CPR."

Cavaliere's wife, Ana Cavaliere, kept one hand holding her 2-year-old daughter Emily and the other directing the spotlight on Rumble.

As long as he struggled, the family would tend to Schmidt first, whose injuries were clearly more serious.

Meanwhile Rumble's rubber boat continued to circle at full throttle, moving away from Cavaliere's boat.

"After a while, I don't know if it was 30 seconds or two minutes, he started to freak out," Cavaliere said.

Then Cavaliere heard a splash.

Hilary and Elizabeth, both freshmen at Clearwater High School, jumped in after Rumble, seeing he couldn't survive on his own much longer. The two had to swim to Rumble; the water was 5- to 6-feet deep, and they couldn't stand.

"The water was cold, filled with blood," Keith Cavaliere said. "It was pitch black. Both those teenage girls jumped in the water. I looked up while I was doing chest compressions.

"The man visibly calmed to see someone in the water with him."

In the water, Elizabeth had her stepmother throw a flotation device out to the group. Rumble held on to it with one hand.

He held on to Elizabeth with the other.

Hilary supported the two.

"(Elizabeth) told me later that she could taste the blood in the water," Keith Cavaliere said. "His wound was huge and glaring. It was a horrible thing to see."

They did this for several minutes while Keith Cavaliere tended to Schmidt.

Eventually Cavaliere brought the boat around to his daughter, her best friend and Rumble and lifted them all into the boat. They were still 1,000 yards from shore.

Cavaliere started the boat and raced toward the causeway, the closest point where an ambulance could meet them, he said.

His wife held onto Emily in one hand and Rumble in the other. His head eventually fell back and his neck wound reopened. They took Hilary's wraparound skirt and tried to stop Rumble's bleeding.

Meanwhile, Hilary and Elizabeth tended to Schmidt. Hilary even attempted CPR as Schmidt remained unconscious.

They waited 4 to 5 minutes on the beach of the causeway before paramedics arrived. They continued to give Schmidt CPR and tried to slow Rumble's bleeding. Rumble was eventually taken to Bayfront Medical Center in St. Petersburg and treated for cuts to his head and his neck. He was released two days later.

Schmidt, who never showed signs of life after the collision, died at the scene, authorities said. They are now investigating whether Rumble had been drinking. Authorities said they won't issue a final report for four to six weeks.

Rumble, who lives in Tampa, wouldn't discuss aspects of the ongoing investigation when reached this week. He did say he would like to meet the Cavalieres along with Hilary to offer his appreciation. He said he knows how trying this past week has been.

"I'm very thankful for their involvement," he said. "As I understand, they haven't been physically hurt, but I'm sure it's an extremely traumatic event for them. If they want to meet me, I'd like to meet them. If not, that's fine. I don't want to force myself on anyone."

Keith Cavaliere said his family is considering a meeting.

Meanwhile, Hilary and Elizabeth have been honored by Clearwater High School and members of their church, Skycrest United Methodist, in Clearwater, for their bravery.

Prouty said the two girls, along with Keith Cavaliere, have also been nominated for a lifesaving recognition award from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

"There couldn't be anyone more deserving than those girls," Cavaliere said.

He said they're "real shook up" by the accident.

Cavaliere, Roper's parents and Elizabeth's mother, Rita Hewett, who works in advertising for the Times, have tried to keep them from reliving the accident and its gruesome details.

"We know what what happened will stay with us for the rest of our lives, and nothing could've prepared us for it," Elizabeth and Hilary said in their note to the Times.

Maybe not, but the adults on the water that night say they reacted with a remarkable presence of mind.

"Those girls, not at any point, did they show any type of panic or fear," Keith Cavaliere said. "They just dove right in and helped in any way they could."

_ Staff researcher Cathy Wos contributed to this report. Aaron Sharockman can be reached at (727) 771-4303 or asharockmansptimes.com.

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