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A sheriff in Florida blasted beachgoers for ignoring deadly rip-current warnings and harassing first responders after nearly a dozen people, including former NFL quarterback Ryan Mallett, drowned in the past two weeks.
In a Facebook post on Monday, Bay County Sheriff Tommy Ford said he was “beyond frustrated” by the “tragic and unnecessary deaths” of people in the Gulf of Mexico who disregarded the rip-current warnings.
“I have watched while deputies, firefighters and lifeguards have risked their lives to save strangers,” Ford wrote. “I have seen strangers die trying to save their children and loved ones, including two fathers on fathers day.”
Despite mounting an awareness campaign and working with local officials to educate the public about the dangers, “people are still dying,” Ford said. Making the situation worse, he said, is the abuse lifeguards, firefighters, and deputies have been experiencing when trying to keep beachgoers safe.
“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,” Ford said. “We have used the tools provided by the county commission to fine violators $500 for entering the water on double red flags.”
According to USA Today, double red flags are the most serious of all beach status flags. Double red flags means that swimming is not allowed. A single red flag means that either the surf is high or there are dangerous conditions present or both; swimming is allowed.
Panama City Beach, a resort town on the Gulf, has been designated the deadliest beach in the country this year, with seven rip-current related deaths in June, according to The Hill.
Preliminary data from the National Weather Service indicate that 60 people have died from drowning in the United States this year.
Ford said his office doesn’t have “the resources or time to cite every single person” who enters the water during unsafe conditions but said it tries to deter people.
“Government and law enforcement can only do so much in these situations,” he said. “Personal responsibility is the only way to ensure that no one else dies. Please make the effort to know the flag status and stay completely out of the water.”
Mallett, who played seven seasons in the NFL, drowned after being caught in a rip current Tuesday in Destin, Florida. He was 35.
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