Lakeland woman dies after scuba diving accident off St. Pete Beach

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Published March 11, 2019

ST. PETE BEACH — A Lakeland woman is dead after she experienced difficulty during a scuba diving trip, the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office said.

Kimberly Houtz, 54, was exploring a popular dive wreck Saturday morning 13 miles west of the beach in about 37 feet of water with her boyfriend, 57-year-old Jay Bryant. But right before she entered the water, Houtz complained that her diving equipment was malfunctioning.

Within five minutes of being underwater, Houtz came to the surface in "obvious distress," witnesses said to detectives. Passengers onboard assisted Houtz back into the fishing vessel Down Under. Houtz said she was nauseous, had abdominal pain and was having trouble breathing.

The boat was headed back to shore because of Houtz's complaints when she lost consciousness. Passengers radioed for help and began to administer CPR.

About a mile offshore, a rescue boat from Eckerd College Search and Rescue met the fishing boat and a paramedic who was on board used a defibrillator and oxygen to treat Houtz.

After the boat arrived at Tierra Verde Marina, paramedics transferred Houtz to Bayfront Health St. Petersburg Hospital. She died at 3:15 p.m. on Saturday.

Detectives said Houtz's death appears to be accidental but it is under investigation pending an autopsy by the Medical Examiner's Office.

Contact McKenna Oxenden at Follow @mack_oxenden.