Man drowns on Dauphin Island’s West End

Some witnesses question lack of lifeguards, criticize city’s response
Published: Aug. 1, 2022 at 10:12 AM CDT
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DAUPHIN ISLAND, Ala. (WALA) - A man drowned Sunday in the Gulf of Mexico, according to Dauphin Island Mayor Jeff Collier.

The mayor told FOX10 News that the drowning occurred at about 6 p.m. near the West End Beach at the end of Bienville Boulevard.

Collier said he did not immediately have details about how the drowning occurred or information about the victim.

Public Safety Director Troy Gorlott said the man, whom he described as in his 30s, had been in the water for about 30 minutes.

“It looks like he was caught in a rip current,” he said.

Mobile resident Brayden Meeks said he and his friend, Hunter Tullos, were surfing when they saw ambulances and a crowd gathered at the beach. He said they tried to find the swimmer and later spotted two women who located him face-down in the water.

“We were kind of paddling in as they were coming from here, and we just paddled towards him and pulled him on the board and just kind of helped get him on the shore as they started (to perform CPR),” he said.

Gorlott said the women are trained first responders from another city who were vacationing on the island.

“They’re the real heroes,” Meeks said. “They were awesome. It was cool to see them just risking it.”

Unfortunately, Meeks said, they were not able to save the man’s life.

Tullos said he and Meeks felt the strong current when they were in the water.

“We started feeling unsafe in that rip current, so we started paddling back so we could get back to shore, also,” he said. “And by the time we were getting close to the shore, the two women in the life vests ended up finding the guy.”

Alison McCary, a New Orleans woman who was staying on the island Sunday, said the women are volunteer firefighters with the Fowl River Volunteer Fire Department. She said the man they tried to rescue was twice their size.

McCrary criticized the response of police and rescue workers.

“There seemed to be, like, no sense of urgency – but there should have been a sense of urgency,” she said.

McCrary added: “Had there been a more coordinated effort earlier, or a search-and-rescue boat or the Coast Guard or a helicopter, I believe his life could have been saved.”

Gorlott said the town has few resources.

“Dauphin Island is a small municipality,” he said. “We’re a small department. My department only has four full-time folks. So we don’t have lifeguards on duty or a water rescue in place.”

But McCrary said other tourist cities provide those services.

“There was no one who was ready or willing or prepared or equipped to go into the water,” she said. “It was only other visitors and tourists from Dauphin Island who went into to search for the body.”

McCrary questioned why the town does not provide lifeguards and also said that the yellow flags that were flying did not accurately describe the conditions of the water.

“If I go on vacation in Pensacola or in Gulf Shores, there’s lifeguards on the beach. … If you’re attracting tourists to come to your beaches, you need to have lifeguards on your beach. And you need to have proper flags up,” she said. “The flag system that was in place was not appropriate.”

The mayor told FOX10 News that the town had lifeguards for a couple of years after it first opened the West End Beach. But he said that finding people who wanted to work as lifeguards was an issue.

“It just got to be challenging,” Collier said.

Gorlott said the town chooses warning flags based on forecasts by the National Weather Service. He said adding lifeguards is something that should be considered.

“We’re continually looking at better ways we can upgrade our safety here on the island,” he said. “That’s one of the things we may address to see if we can do something a little bit better. But all comes down to money and budget.”

This is the second drowning on Dauphin Island this year. In April, a stiff current pulled three swimmers underwater. Recuse workers flew a teenage girl to the University of South Alabama’s University Hospital. But Collier said she later succumbed.

Meeks said people who are not familiar with the area tend to underestimate the power of the Gulf.

“I don’t think people realize that at all that if you get in that water, you are taking a gamble with your life, especially if you don’t have something to help you float,” he said. “Because if you’re just somebody who, you know, is unprepared for the ocean or what can be in the ocean, very deadly things can happen.”

Updated at 1:33 with additional information. Updated at 3:49 p.m. with additional information and a reference to the April drowning.

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