My phone rang at 7:00 am on June 9, 2003. Half awake, I muttered an epithet about how people really should check the clock before calling so early and rather grumpily barked a “HELLO?” into the phone.
The caller was Sandee LaMotte, a good friend from my CNN days. When the Eldest had gone off to the Army and was stationed in Georgia I’d had the privilege of being Sandee and her husband Larry’s (a long-time CNN reporter — one of the original CNNers…) guest at their home in Atlanta. Without saying hello back, she said three words that I will never forget.
“Larry drowned yesterday.”
My response was incredibly banal. “WHAT?”
She repeated herself, and even today, it’s hard to believe.
On June 8, 2003, Larry Lamotte drowned in a rip current at Grayton Beach, off the coast of Florida. He was one of nine people who drowned on Florida beaches that weekend. Here is Sandee’s account of that day in her own words.
Larry Lamotte was a wonderful man. He was funny, articulate, a rabid sports fan, and one of the most interesting people to talk to that I’ve ever known. He had stories from all of his travels and time as a CNN correspondent that were so interesting and fun! Mostly he was a gentleman, a Southern gentleman with a knack for making the best smoked turkey I’ve ever had or ever will have again. Larry was the kind of guy who sends people home from a visit with an entire smoked turkey for their family because…well, because he was just a wonderful person.
He died saving his son Ryan, just 2 years younger than Sticks, from being caught in the current.
Yesterday a 17-year old boy celebrating his upcoming high school graduation was drowned in a rip current at Huntington Beach. His friend was nearly drowned, too, but lifeguards were able to rescue him.
Huntington Beach is a lifeguarded beach. These boys were between 2 lifeguard stands. The boy who was rescued was in 2-4 feet of water. The boy who drowned had been carried out by the current. I do not know if either one knew how to swim but in California there aren’t many who don’t, so I’ll assume they had at least basic skills.
Since Larry’s death, Sandee has lobbied tirelessly for lifeguards on beaches and heightened awareness of beach safety in his memory.
If you take nothing away from this entry, take this:
Rip Currents do not have to kill people.
If you go to the beach this summer, please take a few minutes to learn some basic principles of beach and water safety so that if you or someone you are with is caught in a rip current, you’ll know what to do.
When you are at the beach:
- Whenever possible, swim at a lifeguard-protected beach.
- Never swim alone.
- Learn how to swim in the surf. It’s not the same as swimming in a pool or lake.
- Be cautious at all times, especially when swimming at unguarded beaches. If in doubt, don’t go out.
- Obey all instructions and orders from lifeguards. Lifeguards are trained to identify potential hazards. Ask a lifeguard about the conditions before entering the water. This is part of their job.
- Stay at least 100 feet away from piers and jetties. Permanent rip currents often exist along side these structures.
- Consider using polarized sunglasses when at the beach. They will help you to spot signatures of rip currents by cutting down glare and reflected sunlight off the ocean’s surface.
- Pay especially close attention to children and elderly when at the beach. Even in shallow water, wave action can cause loss of footing.
If you are caught in a rip current, you need to:
- Remain calm to conserve energy and think clearly.
- Never fight against the current.
- Think of it like a treadmill that cannot be turned off, which you need to step to the side of.
- Swim out of the current in a direction following the shoreline. When out of the current, swim at an angle–away from the current–towards shore.
- If you are unable to swim out of the rip current, float or calmly tread water. When out of the current, swim towards shore.
- If you are still unable to reach shore, draw attention to yourself by waving your arm and yelling for help.
If you see someone caught in a rip current,
- Get help from a lifeguard.
- If a lifeguard is not available, have someone call 9-1-1.
- Throw the rip current victim something that floats–a lifejacket, a cooler, an inflatable ball.
- Yell instructions on how to escape.
- Remember, many people drown while trying to save someone else from a rip current.
courtesy National Weather Service “Rip Current Tips”
I miss Larry. But I’m glad that Sandee has been so tireless in getting the word out about beach safety and the importance of lifeguards on beaches. Though she has not succeeded at getting lifeguards placed on Grayton Beach yet, other beaches do have lifeguards now, in large part because of her efforts to educate and advocate for safer beaches so that others do not suffer as her family has suffered.
- Hal Eisner Remembers Larry LaMotte
- Break the Grip of the Rip!
- Surf Zone Forecast
- 20/20 Report (Brian Ross) Dangerous Currents Stalk Florida Panhandle
Please be careful on the beaches. Remember Sandee and her kids and take the little bit of time to stay safe and be aware on the beach, so that she can say at least Larry’s death helped others.