Dangers of rip currents emphasized in aftermath of child’s drowning at Siesta Public Beach

10-year-old was among several people in the Gulf on Sunday evening, after lifeguards went off duty

Irys Wright. Photo courtesy of GoFundMe

The May 24 drowning of a Lake Wales child who had just turned 10 in early March has prompted Sarasota County Emergency Management staff to caution the public about rip tides.

In a May 25 news release, Kaitlyn R. Perez, community affairs director for the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office, announced that deputies were called to Siesta Public Beach just before 6:30 p.m. on Sunday “for multiple reports of swimmers in distress.”

When the officers arrived, Perez continued, they saw three people who appeared to be in distress in the Gulf of Mexico — one woman and two children. People already were in the water, attempting to rescue them, the formal Sheriff’s Office report says. Thanks to the assistance of bystanders and Emergency Medical Services personnel, all three were brought back to the shore, the report adds. However, one of the children was unresponsive, Perez noted, and lifesaving measures were unsuccessful.

The child was transported to Sarasota Memorial Hospital, Perez wrote, where staff pronounced the child’s death. That occurred at 7:15 p.m., according to the Sheriff’s Office’s written report.

The victim was identified as Irys Wright, Perez noted. The child turned 10 on March 9, Perez added.

In an email responding to a Sarasota News Leader request for any further details, Perez wrote that after she talked with both the captain of the department’s Criminal Investigations Section and the detective handling the case, “it sounds like there were a total of eight children and three adults in the party. As soon as the adults noticed the children were well offshore and unable to make it back to safety,” Perez continued, “two of the adults entered the water to render aid. At the same time, several Good Samaritans, EMS personnel and one of our deputies who was working in a Mounted Patrol capacity, also entered the water.”

In her May 25 news release, Perez reported, “Based on preliminary investigation and according to witnesses, it appears the victim was caught in a rip tide current that ultimately led to her drowning. There is no evidence of foul play or neglect. As always, an official cause of death will be determined by the Medical Examiner’s Office.”

On May 26, in response to news media questions about the incident, Sara Nealeigh, county media relations officer for the Emergency Services Department, offered a link to a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) webpage that provides information about rip currents. That page explains, “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,” the webpage says.

This is a still from a NOAA educational video about rip currents. Image courtesy NOAA

“Panicked swimmers often try to counter a rip current by swimming straight back to shore — putting themselves at risk of drowning because of fatigue,” it adds.

“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. If caught in a rip current, don’t fight it! Swim parallel to the shore and swim back to land at an angle,” the page stresses.

This still from the NOAA educational video advises people caught in rip currents to swim parallel to shore until they safely can get out of the current and reach the beach. Image courtesy NOAA

Lifeguards protect six public beaches in the county, Nealeigh of Emergency Services also reminded the public. Along with Siesta, those are Lido, Nokomis, North Jetty, Venice and Manasota beaches.

A May 26 tweet from the county’s Emergency Services account advised followers, “Whenever possible, swim near a lifeguard and know your abilities and comfort level in the water.”

Lake Wales is in Polk County, in the central part of the state, near Winter Haven.

On May 26, Scott Montgomery, the section chief in Sarasota County’s Emergency Management Division who oversees the lifeguard program, told the News Leader that lifeguards are on duty on the six protected beaches from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and are in their stands between 10 a.m. and 4:45 p.m.

Mote Marine’s visitbeaches.org page offers details about what to expect at beaches on Sarasota County’s shoreline. Most of the information is updated at 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., Mote advises. Image courtesy Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium

Asked if flags warning about rip currents — which are flown at the lifeguard stands when such conditions are present — remain in place after the lifeguards leave for the day, Montgomery replied via email, “The flags are not flown when staff goes off duty. This indicates that lifeguards are not on duty. Also, beach conditions can change,” he pointed out.

Rip current safety signs are posted on Sarasota County lifeguard stands, Montgomery noted.

“In addition,” he said, Visitbeaches.org is an online resource for beach conditions,” and it is updated daily.

Expressions of sympathy

On a GoFundMe page she created in the aftermath of Irys’ death, Amy Rietschel-Furick noted that the child was one of her fourth-grade students this year.

“I am at a loss for words as Irys is very special to me and truly an amazing little girl,” Rietschel-Furick wrote on May 26. “Irys was tragically taken from us yesterday due to a tragic drowning.”

Rietschel-Furick initially set a goal of $10,000 for the GoFundMe campaign to assist Irys’ parents with burial expenses.

“The family is already dealing with financial worries and I want to ease everything and anything I can for them,” Rietschel-Furick added.

Irys Wright wears a big smile. Image from GoFundMe

When the News Leader checked the GoFundMe page just after noon on May 26, it found that $9,220 had been raised at that point from 187 donors.

On May 27, the campaign goal had been increased to $15,000. As of shortly after 3 p.m., $13,927 had been raised from 301 donors, the page said.

“Please share this page with others as we never know one day when we may need support,” Rietschel-Furick wrote on May 26.

A person named Adam Henderson, who indicated that he is a friend of the family, described Irys in a Facebook post, noting that she “was full of … much happiness and joy and love” whenever she was around her father, Frederick Brinson, and her mother, Parys Miller.

Miller was one of the adults identified in the Sheriff’s Office report about the Siesta event; the officer noted the same address for Miller and the child.

1 thought on “Dangers of rip currents emphasized in aftermath of child’s drowning at Siesta Public Beach”

  1. Parents and children must learn to swim. Parents are responsible for kids’ safety.
    There is no fault here.
    None.
    However, a change must be made. It’s not about the lifeguards. It’s not about the rip current.
    Each person must know the water, must know how to swim, and must take proper precautions based
    on the conditions. Almost every drowning is preventable.

    There has to be (and there is) a way to teach people to swim that does not require people to be closer than 6 feet.
    Good swimming lessons should go on, keeping with CDC guidelines to protect each person from coronavirus, so that people continue learning to swim. Now is not the time to stop.

Leave a Comment