18-year-old Sarasota High grad identified as deceased in boating incident at Benderson Park

Death appears to have been accidental, Sheriff’s Office reports

A GoFundMe page shows Jalen Smith and his mother, Saleemah Stanley. Image from GoFundMe

An 18-year-old who recently graduated from Sarasota High School apparently drowned at Nathan Benderson Park in the early hours of July 2, the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office reported.

Jalen Smith of 2724 24th St. in Sarasota, who was a member of the Sarasota High School football team, appeared to be the victim of a boating accident, the Sheriff’s Office pointed out in a July 2 news release.

Around 4:30 a.m. on Friday, July 2, deputies responded in partnership with the Sarasota County Fire Department to 5851 Nathan Benderson Circle “for a marine rescue,” Kaitlyn R. Perez, the Sheriff’s Office’s community affairs director, reported. When units arrived, she explained, officers learned that two individuals had taken a paddleboat into the middle of the lake and then jumped into the water after the boat began to malfunction.

One of them “was able to make it back to shore but called 911 when he noticed his friend was having trouble swimming,” Perez added.

Members of the Sheriff’s Underwater Recovery Force (S.U.R.F.) responded to the scene, along with members of the Sheriff’s Office Marine Unit, she noted. Just after 11 a.m. on July 2, deputies recovered a body from the north end of the lake, Perez added.

About midafternoon on July 2, the deceased was identified as Smith, Sheriff’s Office Community Affairs Specialist Megan Krahe wrote in an update.

As of that time, Krahe added, the Sheriff’s Office had found no indication that the incident was “anything other than accidental.” However the investigation remained active, she pointed out. “As always, an official cause of death will be determined and released by the [District 12] Medical Examiner’s Office,” Krahe noted.

A member of the Sheriff’s Office Marine Unit stands on the Benderson Park shoreline on July 2. Image courtesy Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office

Smith graduated from Sarasota High School this spring. He was a defensive end and a running back on the high school football team, according to MaxPreps.com.

According to the Sarasota County Property Appraiser’s Office’s records, Smith’s mother is Saleemah Stanley. Records show that she bought the 24th Street house in March 2019.

The Sarasota News Leader learned this week that Smith’s uncle, Lloyd Sparkes, had created a GoFundMe fundraiser for Smith’s funeral expenses. The goal was $25,000, the webpage said, but as of early afternoon on July 7, the total was $30,555, thanks to 59 people having made contributions. The page says it was created on July 3.

A 2 p.m. July 6 update posted on the page said, “Thank you to everyone who sent messages, stories, photos, donations and to all those who gave their time, energy, thoughts and prayers. Your love and support has been received and appreciated with open arms. It took a bit longer than expected but we do have some updated details about the days ahead.”

One part of the post says Smith was an only child.

Among other details, the page noted that a wake has been planned from 6-8 p.m. on Friday, July 16, at Chandler Funeral Home on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Way in Sarasota. The funeral will be conducted at 10 a.m. on Saturday, July 17, at Bayside Community Church, located at 8200 Bee Ridge Road in Sarasota.

Benderson Park is owned by Sarasota County, but a nonprofit organization, Suncoast Nature Center Associates Inc. (SANCA), manages the facilities under contract with the county.

The park’s website says its hours from April through October are from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. The website also notes that the park rents pontoon pedal boats, stand-up paddleboards and kayaks.