A Florida sheriff ripped into beachgoers who are ignoring his warnings of deadly water conditions after the Florida Panhandle experienced nearly a dozen deadly drownings, including former NFL quarterback Ryan Mallett, over the last two weeks.
Bay County Sheriff Tommy Ford said he was infuriated with the unnecessary deaths after he had to watch his deputies rescue strangers who disregarded the warnings.
“I’m beyond frustrated at the situation that we have with tragic and unnecessary deaths in the Gulf,” Ford wrote on Facebook. “I have watched while deputies, firefighters, and lifeguards have risked their lives to save strangers. I have seen strangers die trying to save their children and loved ones, including two fathers on Father’s Day.”
Panama City Beach, a resort town located in the south end of Bay County on the Gulf of Mexico, has been designated the deadliest beach in the US this year with seven deaths, all of which happened in the month of June.
More than 60 people have died from drowning in the United States this year; last year’s total was 69, according to USA Today.
Panama City Police responded to 70 swimmers in distress calls over the past 10 days, 39 of which occurred on Saturday — the same day four men ranging from 39 to 68 years old were killed because of rip currents at different resorts on Panama City Beach, according to a report from the National Weather Service.
Despite working with local officials to increase awareness and warnings of the dangers, Ford says lifeguards, firefighters and his deputies have been cursed at and harassed by beachgoers.
“These same heroes, who have risked it all to save others, have been cursed and given the finger, while trying to warn visitors of the life-threatening dangers,” Ford said. “We have used the tools provided by the county commission to fine violators $500 for entering the water on double red flags.”
Double red flags are the most severe of warnings put up at beaches, indicating “very high hazard and the water is closed to the public.”
Ford said his office doesn’t have the resources or time to cite everyone but still tries its best to deter people from going into the water, arresting only those “upon a second offense unless the individual resists law enforcement,” but he has been working with local officials to improve emergency response measures education about conditions, “Yet, people are still dying.”
“Government and law enforcement can only do so much in these situations. Personal responsibility is the only way to ensure that no one else dies, Ford added. “Please make the effort to know the flag status and stay completely out of the water.
“I’m so proud of the men and women at the sheriff’s office and partner agencies that are giving their absolute best to save lives. Please be responsible and don’t put your life or theirs in danger.”
Mallett, who played five seasons in the NFL, died in a drowning accident on Tuesday in Destin, Florida, located 50 miles west of Panama City Beach in Okaloosa County.
The high school coach was with a group of about 9 to 12 people when they were suddenly caught in a rip current.
Everyone was able to make it to shore except Mallett who was rushed him the hospital where he was pronounced dead., according to Deltaplex News.
In a subsequent post titled “THE AFTERMATH OF A DEADLY WEEKEND” Ford shared photos of what the rip currents did to the sand beneath the water over the weekend, where he said even great swimmers would have had trouble.
“You say you are a “good” swimmer, an experienced swimmer, a competitive swimmer. But you are no match for a rip current,” Ford said.
Ford’s office shares the beach conditions daily on its Facebook page, all of last week featured graphics declaring either double red or single red flag days.