Florida sheriff explodes over swimmers ignoring deadly riptide warnings in the Gulf of


The sheriff of a Florida Panhandle county declared he is ‘beyond frustrated’ at beachgoers ignoring warnings about deadly rip tides after seven people drowned at Panama City beach limits in less than two weeks.

Tommy Ford, the sheriff of Bay County, whose district includes the popular Florida resort town of Panama City, said the deaths were ‘tragic and unnecessary’.

On Tuesday, 35-year-old former NFL player Ryan Mallett drowned after getting caught in a rip tide 50 miles west of Panama City, in Destin, Florida. 

Just three days earlier, three people drowned in a matter of hours along Panama City’s beaches: Morytt Burden, 63, of Lithia Springs, Georgia; Kimberly Moore, 39, of Lithonia, Georgia; and Donald Wixon, 68 of Canton, Michigan. Two fathers also died on Father’s Day, June 18.  And across the whole Gulf Coast, including Alabama, at least 11 people have died due to riptides.

Between 2002-2021, the treacherous currents have been responsible for 191 deaths along the Alabama and Florida Panhandle coast. That’s more than tornadoes, lightning, tropical weather systems, and flooding combined, according to National Weather Service data cited by AL.com

Tommy Ford, the sheriff of Bay County, shared this photo on Facebook illustrating the rip tides near Panama City. The trenches in the sand are caused by the currents

Tommy Ford, the sheriff of Bay County, shared this photo on Facebook illustrating the rip tides near Panama City. The trenches in the sand are caused by the currents

Ford said that he was 'beyond frustrated' at the unnecessary deaths

Ford said that he was ‘beyond frustrated’ at the unnecessary deaths

Sheriff Ford said swimmers ignoring rip tide warnings were also putting rescuers’ lives at risk.

‘I’m beyond frustrated at the situation that we have with tragic and unnecessary deaths in the Gulf,’ wrote Ford on Facebook on Monday. 

‘I have watched while deputies, firefighters and lifeguards have risked their lives to save strangers. I have seen strangers die trying to save their children and loved ones, including two fathers on fathers day.’

He said some of his staff were abused and cursed for warning people of the dangers, and fining those who ignored the laws. 

‘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. We don’t have the resources or time to cite every single person that enters the water but we do our absolute best to use it as a deterrent to entering the water. An arrest is only authorized upon a second offense unless the individual resists law enforcement.

‘We have been diligently working with the TDC, Commissioners and other partners to continually improve our response capabilities and messaging to make sure everyone knows the flag conditions. Yet, people are still dying.’

Panama City's beaches attract large numbers of visitors

Panama City’s beaches attract large numbers of visitors

Morytt Burden, 63, of Lithia Springs, Georgia, died the day before his birthday after being caught in a riptide this month

Morytt Burden, 63, of Lithia Springs, Georgia, died the day before his birthday after being caught in a riptide this month

Ford said people visiting the beaches needed to take responsibility for their actions and respect the rules, which were there to keep people safe.

What to do if you are caught in a rip current 

If caught in a rip current, don’t fight it.

Swim parallel to the shore and swim back to land at an angle. 

Rip currents are powerful, narrow channels of fast-moving water that are prevalent along the East, Gulf, and West coasts of the U.S., as well as along the shores of the Great Lakes.

Moving at speeds of up to eight feet per second, rip currents can move faster than an Olympic swimmer.

Lifeguards rescue tens of thousands of people from rip currents in the U.S. every year, but it is estimated that 100 people are killed by rip currents annually.

Source: National Ocean Service 

He urged all those enjoying the Florida and Alabama beaches to do so safely and responsibly. 

‘Government and law enforcement can only do so much in these situations,’ said Ford. 

‘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.’

He concluded: ‘I’m so proud of the men and women at the sheriffs 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.’

Ford followed up with an aerial photo showing the power of the rip tides.

The sand had been dragged into straight lines away from the shore, in deep trenches. 

He captioned his photo: ‘Aftermath of a deadly weekend’.

‘You say you are a ‘good’ swimmer, an experienced swimmer, a competitive swimmer,’ wrote Ford. 

‘But you are no match for a rip current. 

‘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.’

Joethan Phillips, beach safety chief for Gulf Shores, said many people did not understand the beach flags.

Green flags indicate low risk; yellow medium; and a single red means there is high risk, and most people should stay out of the water.

A double red flag means the water is closed, and people who go in can be fined and arrested. 

‘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, who played in the NFL with the New England Patriots, Houston Texans and Baltimore Ravens, drowned in Destin, Florida on Tuesday.

Mallett was on vacation with his girlfriend Madison Carter, KNWA reported, and was swimming with a group of friends.

The former quarterback backed up Tom Brady for two seasons in New England, and the future Hall of Famer paid tribute to his ex-teammate late Tuesday on Instagram.

‘We lost a great man. Thank you for you everything Ryan,’ he wrote.

‘Praying for the Mallett family and all their loved ones tonight.’ 

Former football player and White Hall coach Ryan Mallett has passed away at the age of 35

Former football player and White Hall coach Ryan Mallett has passed away at the age of 35

The ex-quarterback played alongside Tom Brady with New England Patriots from 2011-2013

The ex-quarterback played alongside Tom Brady with New England Patriots from 2011-2013

And the legendary passer paid tribute to his ex-teammate late on Tuesday night

And the legendary passer paid tribute to his ex-teammate late on Tuesday night

Mallett was on vacation with his girlfriend Madison Carter, KNWA reported. The ex-player went Facebook official with Carter less than a month ago, on June 1

Mallett was on vacation with his girlfriend Madison Carter, KNWA reported. The ex-player went Facebook official with Carter less than a month ago, on June 1

The Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office confirmed Mallett’s death in a statement.

‘A tourist died in an apparent drowning offshore of Gulf Shore Drive in Destin,’ it read on Tuesday evening.

‘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.’

Deltaplex News first reported the tragedy on Tuesday, before the Patriots and the NFL confirmed the news and paid tribute.

Mallett was taken from a Florida beach to the hospital after first responders were called to the area at 2.12pm. 

He was pronounced dead at the Destin emergency room.

Deltaplex News later reported that Mallett was with up to 12 people when he got caught in a riptide. 



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