3 possibly 4 dead in Tuesday drownings along Panhandle beaches

By  | 

BAY COUNTY, Fla. (WJHG/WECP)-- Tuesday was the deadliest day in 2016 for swimmers along Florida panhandle beaches with at least three people dead and one other still missing as of Wednesday morning.

The drownings happened in Bay County, Walton County and Okaloosa Counties.

The first drowning happened about 12:30 p.m. in Bay County. Investigators say Theresa Roark, 52, of Ohio, was on a float off the coast of Shell Island in Panama City Beach. Her family and friends were on the shore and she was alone in the water. She apparently got pulled on her float into the Pass, an area of deep water.

Somehow she fell off her float. Her family says she wasn't experienced swimming in Gulf waters. She was found floating facedown by a jet ski, which brought her to shore where CPR was started.

She was taken to a local hospital where she was pronounced dead. Her body has been turned over to the medical examiner's office.

In Okaloosa County, A Georgia man died Tuesday evening after being caught in a riptide in the Gulf of Mexico near the Okaloosa Island pier.

Investigators say firefighters and emergency medical services personnel tried to say Ulysses Williams, 36, of Columbus, Georgia, after he was pulled to shore just after 6 p.m., but he was unconscious and not breathing. Williams was later pronounced dead at a local hospital.

A friend says Williams panicked after getting caught in a rip current.

In Walton County the search continues for a swimmer who went missing Tuesday night. The Walton County Sheriff's Office says multiple agencies are conducting a search and rescue in the waters behind the Whale's Tale in Miramar Beach.

WCSO Beach Units were called to the area to four distressed swimmers in the water Tuesday at 7:40pm.

Two made it to safety with non-life threatening injuries, one was pulled from the water and later died, and one is still unaccounted for.

The Bay County Sheriff's Office is using its helicopter in the search. South Walton Fire District, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the US Coast Guard are also helping with the search.

Rough waters overnight limited the search to air units, but searchers are using jet skis and boats in addition to helicopters and planes now that the sun has risen and there's more visibility.

Red or double red flags have been flying along area beaches since the weekend. The flag system works like a stop light. Green means you're in the clear. Yellow means be cautious, and if you're not a good swimmer maybe sit this one out. Red means there is a high danger and you're advised not to go in the water. Double red mean it's against the law to get in the water, you can actually get fined or arrested.

Lifeguards at Bay County Pier say they pulled nine people out of the water Monday when double red flags were flying. Then on Tuesday the changed the flags to single red flags and ended up having to save seven people.

Lifeguards say paying close attention to the flags can be the difference between life and death.