A Florida sheriff had some strong words for beachgoers just days before former NFL quarterback Ryan Mallett tragically drowned in the Gulf of Mexico. Mallet was pulled from the water near Destin, unresponsive, and was pronounced dead on arrival at a local hospital.
Days earlier, Bay County Sheriff Tommy Ford spoke out about the risks present along the panhandle section of the state. Bay County is next to Okaloosa County and Okaloosa Island, where Destin is located. It is an extremely popular vacation destination for the powdery white sand and emerald green waters. Unfortunately, the waters of the panhandle have been particularly deadly this year.
Sheriff Ford wrote of the dangers present on social media: “I’m beyond frustrated at the situation that we have with tragic and unnecessary deaths in the Gulf. 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).”
It has been a deadly summer for the panhandle so far. Panama City Beach has had seven drowning deaths in June, and the month isn’t over. Nationwide, at least 60 people have drowned this year alone. Earlier in the year, another former NFL player, Peyton Hillis, almost died while saving his son and niece in the waters off of Pensacola. Hillis survived barely and is still experiencing physical and emotional difficulties from the experience.
Florida Bay County Sheriff Tommy Ford rips beachgoers ignoring warning signshttps://t.co/fXMPW9WPw7
— Jaun News (@JaunNews) June 28, 2023
Sheriff Ford continued: “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. We have used the tools provided by the county commission to fine violators $500 for entering the water on double red flags. We don’t have the resources or time to cite every single person that enters the water but we do our absolute best to use it as a deterrent to entering the water. An arrest is only authorized upon a second offense unless the individual resists law enforcement.”
Beachgoers, particularly in the warm, calm waters of the Gulf of Mexico, often assume the currents aren’t strong and the water is safe. Many ignore posted warning flags, and there aren’t enough emergency personnel and law enforcement to police all of the vast Gulf beaches.
Panhandle beaches are often the most dangerous of the Gulf beaches. You can’t see a rip current, and if pulled into one, as was the case with Ryan Mallett, unless you are a strong swimmer that knows how to negotiate a rip current, the prospects of surviving aren’t great.
In the former New England quarterback and University of Arkansas greats case, he couldn’t survive the current. According to officials: “A group of people in the water near the second sandbar had reportedly been struggling to make their way back to shore.” Mallett was among that group. He went underwater, and when lifeguards reached him and pulled him out, he had already stopped breathing.
It is a sad cautionary tale. The ocean is dangerous and must be treated with respect, and posted warnings should be heeded. For Sheriff Ford, he concluded: “Use caution every time you go into the Gulf. Today is a bit rough, so be especially careful. We’ll be out on the sand, doing our best to keep you safe, visitors and residents alike.”
For Ryan Mallett, it is too late to heed that advice, but hopefully, people will pay closer attention, and no one else will have to get the bad news that a loved one has drowned in the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Thoughts and prayers to he Mallett family.
Featured image: Keith Allison, CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
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