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Red-Flag Warning

August 5, 2008

By Pat Kelly, The News Herald, Panama City, Fla.

Aug. 5–PANAMA CITY BEACH You could hear the frustration creeping into the voice of Maj. Dave Humphreys with the Panama City Beach Police Department.

Beachgoers still were venturing into the gulf Monday despite double-red flags flying, helicopters hovering and the drowning of two people the day before.

Another person died Monday morning, and beach officials were pulling distressed swimmers from the surf most of the morning and afternoon.

“It continues to baffle me,” said Humphreys, who indicated his department was adding extra personnel to patrol the beach because of surf conditions exacerbated by Tropical Storm Edouard.

The department expects the turbulent conditions to persist most, if not all, of this week.

“We continue to have people on standby,” he said.

Humphreys said John Guice, 43, of Birmingham, Ala., was swimming with his two sons in the early Monday hours near the Tidewater Condominiums when the group, including a grandfather, became distressed.

The swimmers were assisted by other beachgoers, but Guice was taken to Bay Medical Center where he was pronounced dead. If his death is ruled a drowning, it will be the fifth in as many days and the 10th this year in the gulf off Bay County beaches.

The grandfather also was transported to the hospital. His condition was not known by police.

Later Monday afternoon, Lt. Larry Couch of Panama City Fire and Rescue also expressed frustration after helping assist with another swimmer pulled from the surf.

The victim, an unidentified male from Georgia, was pulled to shore near the M.B. Miller Pier using a Jet Ski and an assist from a tourist and his boogie board.

Why were the swimmers still venturing into the water? Couch was blunt: “Stupidity.”

“If the red flags are posted, the water is closed,” Couch said.

Double-red flags indicate the presence of rip currents, and swimmers are not allowed in the water.

The male swimmer assisted by Couch, along with the swimmer’s family, was visibly upset and declined to talk about the incident. The victim was released after his vital signs were checked on shore.

Patrick Kroeger, an 18-year-old from Louisville, Ky., said he ran out with his boogie board to help when he saw the man in trouble.

“They (family members) were yelling, and I ran out with my boogie board. Then a Jet Ski came over. When he tried to grab on, the Jet Ski flipped over,” Kroeger said. “He was just tired.”

Kroeger said out-of-towners come to Panama City Beach to get into the water and purposely ignore the double-red flags and the danger of rip currents. Before he went into the surf to help rescue the man from Georgia, he had ventured into the water himself, but only up to his knees, he said.

Noreen McCoy of Ohio, who witnessed Kroeger’s efforts to help the victim from Georgia and who was vacationing with her daughter and two grandchildren, said she was careful about surf conditions before swimming.

Far down the beach toward the west, a lone surfer could be seen in the pounding surf as the red flags continued to flap in the stiff breeze and a helicopter buzzed the shore, its loudspeaker urging swimmers out of the water.

“What is the matter with people?” McCoy said. “We are not going into the water because I have a brain. Death is final.”

Also on Monday, the office of District 14 Medical Examiner Michael Hunter listed “accidental drowning” as the official cause of death of two swimmers who died Sunday.

James D. Powell, 60, of Austin, Texas, and Joseph Kincaid, a 34-year-old Georgia man, both died after being pulled from the gulf and transported to area hospitals.

“The awareness of local residents is up because they have seen these tragedies on the news,” Humphreys said, but visitors to Bay County might not be as cautious.

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Copyright (c) 2008, The News Herald, Panama City, Fla.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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