Two people drowned and another suffered life-threatening injuries in the waters of Tampa Bay and the Gulf of Mexico on Sunday.
Investigators said all three cases appear to be accidents, but the incidents stand as a reminder that summer, with vacation in full swing and families flocking to the beach to cool off and enjoy the warm water, comes with a spike in the rate of drownings.
"Weekend days, summer months are the height of drowning time just because it’s the time most people are out at the water," said Alison Osinski, an aquatic consultant and drowning expert.
The first incident took place about 2:30 p.m. Ferdinand Torres, 56, was pulled from bay waters off the shores of Whiskey Joe’s Tampa Bar & Grill, a popular beach hangout on the Tampa side of the Courtney Campbell Causeway.
Bystanders administered cardiopulmonary resuscitation on Torres until Tampa firefighters took over. They took him to a local hospital with what were reported to be life-threatening injuries.
Sunday’s second incident took place about five hours later and a few miles away on the northwest side of the Gandy Bridge.
Cruz Sales-Lopez, 28, of Tampa was swimming with his girlfriend, Erika Fuentes Ambrosio, 33, at about 7 p.m., according to the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office.
The couple were on their way back to shore when Salez-Lopez began to struggle. He called out for help before disappearing below the surface, deputies said.
Ambrosio called 911 and marine and air units from the Sheriff’s Office, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and Tampa Fire Rescue spent nearly 40 minutes searching before they found Sales-Lopez unresponsive in the water.
He was pronounced dead at Tampa General Hospital, deputies said. Sales-Lopez did not know how to swim.
The third incident took place south of Pinellas County late Sunday, when a man who was swimming off Lido Beach got caught in a rip current.
The unidentified man was swimming with a woman near Big Pass, a boater channel, about 10 p.m., according to Sarasota police. The woman was able to swim back to shore; the man wasn’t. He was found about 45 minutes later and was pronounced dead after efforts to revive him were unsuccessful.
About 3,500 people die from drowning each year in the U.S., Osinski said. Yet there are basic steps anyone can take to reduce that risk before they get into the water.
"The number one obvious thing: learn to swim," she said. "When we look at why people drown, people don’t just drown, there’s a precipitating incident. And the number one thing is people don’t know how to swim."
She added these other tips: Always swim at beaches with lifeguards. If caught in a rip current, swim parallel to shore to break free from the current before swimming back in.
Trying to swim against the current, she said, is futile — and could be fatal.
Contact Josh Solomon at (813) 909-4613 or [email protected] Follow @ByJoshSolomon.