Local sisters call for change in beach safety after finding boy’s body in Gulf

Published: Jul. 8, 2021 at 8:02 PM CDT
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PANAMA CITY BEACH, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - This week’s drowning of six-year-old Enrique Cortez-Dubon has upset many in the community. Now the family who spotted the boy’s body is speaking out, asking, what can be done to prevent this from happening again?

Heartbreaking. That’s how Alisa Steigerwalt described Tuesday when her daughter saw the body of Enrique floating in the Gulf of Mexico off Panama City Beach.

“I just thought about the mom. The mom, the mom, mom, mom, mom. That’s all I thought about,” said Steigerwalt.

Alisa’s sister April Crosby said while it’s been a painful situation, it’s also opened their eyes.

“To me and to my sisters and others about the awareness of ‘how do you prevent this?’” said Crosby.

The sisters are looking to raise awareness for tourists to help prevent more drownings.

“I don’t think these people have an understanding of the water that they’re swimming in,” said Crosby.

They also want to educate visitors on the beach flag system, so people know and understand the warnings.

We asked random visitors what they know about the flags.

“I have no idea what the flag system means,” visitor Jill Gilleland said.

“I don’t know what the flag systems are,” visitor Whitney Tanksley said.

Both sisters said there needs to be more flag warning signs visible on the beach. They also say they want an advanced warning app that people can see on their phones.

“Like if you’re staying at a hotel, then this is on your phone, this is what we require and we’re going to update you hourly,” said Steigerwalt.

An app they hope could educate you about dangerous water conditions and when the flags change.

“That they’re going to open up [the app] and see like double red flags and what it means and some kind of image like this could be you,” said Steigerwalt.

The sisters also hope visitors can be better educated on rip currents.

“No, I don’t know what rip currents are,” visitor Bryson Smith said. Something many not familiar with the beach will say.

“How it can all come together and just pull you under and sweep you out, but on the top of the surface it just looks beautiful and kids don’t know that. Parents don’t know that,” said Steigerwalt.

Steigerwalt and Crosby said more lifeguards may help, whatever it takes to keep swimmers safe.

“We’re not going to prevent incidents and accidents, but we can sure lessen them,” said Crosby.

Lessen them, so no other families have to feel the heartbreak of losing a loved one in the water.

Both sisters are calling on city and county officials to spend more money on raising beach safety awareness.

Just this week, Bay County joined Panama City Beach in no longer warning swimmers who enter the water during double red flags. Now if caught, they’ll be fined $500. A step county leaders hope will keep more people from swimming in dangerous surf.

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