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A Florida sheriff issued a warning to would-be swimmers and beachgoers after a spate of deaths occurred around Florida beaches, including former NFL quarterback Ryan Mallett, in recent days.
Bay County Sheriff Tommy Ford, whose jurisdiction includes Panama City, issued the alert to tourists and locals, saying he’s angered by what he said were unnecessary deaths from rip currents. Ford claimed that firefighters, deputies, and lifeguards have been cursed at by strangers who disregarded red flag warnings that were posted at beaches in recent days.
“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 wrote on Facebook. “We have used the tools provided by the county commission to fine violators $500 for entering the water on double red flags.”
Over the past weekend, three people died in rip-currents at the Panama City Beach, according to official data posted by the National Weather Service.
In a subsequent post this week, Ford posted a photo of what appear to be rip-currents along a Florida beach. He added it was the “aftermath of a deadly weekend.”
“You say you are a ‘good’ swimmer, an experienced swimmer, a competitive swimmer. But you are no match for a rip current,” he said. “These are pictures of the trenches dredged in the sand under the water as a result of the powerful rip currents this past weekend. These are so deep they are easily seen from above. There are quite a few of them. The pictures were taken yesterday from one of our helicopters. They say a picture is worth a thousand words. We hope so.”
Some media outlets have described Panama City Beach, a resort town along the Gulf of Mexico, has the deadliest beach in the United States in 2023. Seven deaths have been reported so far, according to the weather service.
“Government and law enforcement can only do so much in these situations. Personal responsibility is the only way to ensure that no one else dies,” Ford said in a post. “Please make the effort to know the flag status and stay completely out of the water.”
He added: “I’m so proud of the men and women at the sheriff’s office and partner agencies that are giving their absolute best to save lives. Please be responsible and don’t put your life or theirs in danger.”
But Joethan Phillips, the safety chief for Gulf Shores, told AL.com that many people simply don’t understand the beach flags.
“I think that’s a lot of it,” Phillips told AL.com. “I just think a lot of people don’t know what the flags mean or even if they’re there.”
Mallett, meanwhile, was confirmed to have died in a drowning incident in Destin, Florida, located in Okaloosa County. Mallett, who played several seasons in the NFL and notably was the backup to former New England Patriots legend Tom Brady, was with a group of people when he was reportedly swept up in a rip current, according to reports.
“We lost a great man. Thank you for you everything Ryan,” Brady wrote on Tuesday night in a social media post. “Praying for the Mallett family and all their loved ones tonight.”
The Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office confirmed Mallett’s death to local media outlets.
“A tourist died in an apparent drowning offshore of Gulf Shore Drive in Destin,” the office said. “‘A group of individuals were reportedly struggling offshore when a man went under. ‘He was not breathing when lifeguards found and pulled him out. Tragically lifesaving measures weren’t successful. The victim is identified as 35-year old Ryan Mallett of Arkansas. We send our heartfelt sympathies to his family, friends, and loved ones in his tragic passing.”