Passing boater spots body of swimmer who had been missing off Turtle Beach

Multiple organizations had conducted search starting Sunday evening

The Sheriff’s Underwater Recovery Force (SURF) and Marine Unit search for the missing swimmer near Turtle Beach. Photo courtesy Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office

Just after 5 p.m. on Monday, May 20, the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office reported that a passing boater had spotted the body of 23-year-old Jose Daniel Venta Ciro of Sarasota in the Gulf of Mexico, in the area of 9150 Blind Pass Road on Siesta Key.

Venta Ciro disappeared offshore of Turtle Beach the previous day, the Sheriff’s Office had noted in an alert early in the morning of May 20.

Two other swimmers were rescued, the Sheriff’s Office added.

Just before 7:30 p.m. on Sunday, Venta Ciro appeared to be in distress when his companions onshore lost sight of him, the Sheriff’s Office said. His disappearance prompted an emergency search.

Located at 8918 Midnight Pass Road on the southern end of Siesta Key, Turtle Beach Park does not have lifeguards. Moreover, rip current conditions were in effect. The National Weather Service had issued a rip current warning for May 18 that continued not only into May 19 but also into May 20, a Sheriff’s Office spokesman reported.

In response to a Sarasota News Leader request for information, Sara Nealeigh, the county media relations officer assigned to the Emergency Services Department, said that the Sarasota County Fire Department Lifeguards were flying red flags at Siesta Beach on Sunday. Those flags warn people that conditions in the water are not safe.

She referred the News Leader to two online links for information about the warning flags: https://floridadep.gov/rcp/fcmp/content/beach-warning-flag-program and https://www.weather.gov/media/tae/RipCurrentFlags.pdf.

Image courtesy Sarasota County

Because of approaching darkness and safety concerns about the strength of the current on May 19, “protracted search efforts were suspended until daylight” on May 20, the Sheriff’s Office noted.

Air, marine, and land assets from the Sheriff’s Office, the Sarasota County Fire Department and the United States Coast Guard (USCG) collaborated in the search for the swimmer, the Sheriff’s Office pointed out.

The unidentified boater spotted Venta Ciro’s body while the search and recovery mission remained underway. The body was about one-quarter of a mile north of where the swimmer last was seen, the Sheriff’s Office said in a news release.

Photographs provided to the agency enabled personnel to positively identify the remains as those of the Vento Ciro, the Sheriff’s Office release added.

During a briefing for the news media at Turtle Beach early in the afternoon of May 20, Evan Keats, director of community affairs for the Sheriff’s Office, explained that after crews with the Sarasota County Fire Department arrived on the scene the evening of May 19, bystanders helped the first responders rescue two other swimmers from the Gulf. A “language barrier” made it difficult for Fire Department and Sheriff’s Officer personnel to gain many details, he added, but personnel felt they had sufficient information to determine that only one person was still missing at that point.

At 8 a.m. on May 20, the Sheriff’s Office deployed its Marine Unit and its Underwater Recovery Force, using side-scan sonar to search the water, “based on the family’s account of where [the missing male] was last seen,” Keats added.

Although conditions in the water were better that day than the preceding day, Keats continued on May 20, visibility was limited to 2 to 3 feet. He described the water as murky, and he pointed out that the current remained “very strong,” with rip currents still being observed.

The Sarasota County Fire Department report about the water rescues, which the News Leader received through a public records request, explained that a Fire Department boat crewed by persons assigned to Fire Station 13 on Siesta Key was dispatched to Turtle Beach the evening of May 19. The initial advisory, the report said, had noted that three people were “in the water struggling.”

Emergency vehicles are parked outside Fire Station 13. The facility is just south of Siesta Public Beach. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Upon arrival on the scene, the report continued, the fire boat crew learned that, while two of the individuals were out of the water, the third remained in the Gulf.

A shoreline search commenced, the report added.

A device placed in the water showed “a relatively strong current pushing on a bearing of 160 [meaning south/southeast],” the report pointed out.

“We did a shoreline search approximately 2 miles south of [the] beach and extended out [approximately] 2 miles,” the report’s narrative said.

A small Coast Guard boat then arrived on the scene, the report noted. The Coast Guard crew advised the fire boat crew that the Coast Guard had been requested to undertake a shoreline search of its own.

After consulting with Fire Department commanding officers, the report continued, the fire boat crew concentrated on an area in the Gulf that faced the section of the beach where the swimmer last was seen. “[We] did a tight shoreline search utilizing side scan sonar,” the report added. “Nothing found and command released all units after extensive search,” the report said.

Incident occurs during Water Safety Month and Safe Boating Week

On May 22, Gov. Ron DeSantis issued a proclamation declaring May Water Safety Month in Florida, while this week — through May 24 — is Safe Boating Week in the state.

DeSantis’ proclamation said, in part, “Florida is committed to ensuring the safety of all residents and visitors to our great state; … residents and visitors alike enjoy our state’s natural waterways, rivers, lakes, and manmade recreational water facilities …

“Water Safety Month in Florida is an opportunity to increase public awareness of measures that can prevent water-related deaths and injuries, such as swimming lessons or CPR,” the proclamation also noted.

Nealeigh, the county media relations officer, reminded the News Leader that residents and visitors alike can check visitbeaches.org for information on beach conditions and take a look at the flags flying from lifeguard stands on the county-operated beaches.

The county has six beaches with lifeguards who are on duty from 10 a.m. to 4:45 p.m., county staff points out.

“Lifeguards update the information on visitbeaches.org twice a day,” Nealeigh added in her May 20 email to the News Leader.

This is a screenshot of the visitbeaches.org website the afternoon of May 23, with Siesta Public Beach conditions highlighted. Image courtesy Mote Marine

Further, Nealeigh offered these recommendations from the Emergency Services Department: “Swim near a lifeguard. Lifeguards are trained to recognize hazardous conditions, advise swimmers how to stay safe and respond to emergencies. 

Nealeigh also encourages residents and visitors to check the information available through this link: https://www.usla.org/page/safety-week.

The following are the U.S. Lifesaving Association’s Top Ten Safety Tips, that website notes:

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