Palm Beach police: Man dies trying to save friend caught in rip current


A Sanford man died while trying to save a coworker who was swept to sea by a rip current at Clarke Avenue Beach, according to Palm Beach police.

John Andrew Ussery, 51, was pronounced dead at 5:48 p.m. Tuesday at Good Samaritan Medical Center after receiving CPR throughout the ambulance ride from the beach, a police report said.

Ussery and coworker Jason Erick DeLeon, 25, of Homestead were pulled from the water by police officers and firefighters who first arrived on the scene.

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Police were summoned to the beach in the 100 block of South Ocean Boulevard, just south of Barton Avenue, at 4:53 p.m., the report said. The first officer to arrive was on a motorcycle and didn’t have a buoy to help the two men, according to the report.

The report said another officer, Glen Dorow, first tried to reach Ussery with a buoy but couldn’t because of high swells. Officer Ryan Burgoon went in after Dorow was able to help Ussery, who stated “Thank goodness you made it, I didn’t have any strength left.”

Ussery fell unconscious when they reached the beach and he was unable to be revived, according to the report.

Meanwhile, DeJesse reached DeLeon and pulled him to shore. DeLeon was stable and was taken to Good Samaritan Medical Center. A hospital spokesman said Wednesday that DeLeon was in good condition.

Police said DeJesse was injured during the rescue and was evaluated at the hospital and later released. He isn’t cleared for duty until Saturday.

In an interview with police at the hospital, the report said DeLeon told officers he and Ussery were staying with two other coworkers on Seaspray Avenue. DeLeon said that he was standing in the shallows when, suddenly, he realized he couldn’t touch the bottom anymore.

DeLeon said he yelled for help as he drifted out and that Ussery got in and swam toward him. Ussery was exhausted when he reached DeLeon and told him they had to “let go” of each other, the report said.

DeLeon drifted away, but Ussery was stuck in the current. The report said police estimated the men were between 50 and 75 yards away from the shore when officers arrived.

Palm Beach Fire-Rescue Division Chief Sean Baker said two firefighters also jumped in the water to help before lifeguards arrived. He said at the scene Tuesday that Ussery was in cardiac arrest.

Lifeguards and EMTs performed CPR on Ussery on the beach for about 15 minutes before taking him to the hospital.

Ussery’s 25-year-old son, Gabriel Ussery, said his father was in Palm Beach on business for two weeks and was supposed to return home next weekend.

A representative for his employer, Custom Cable, did not respond to a phone message.

Gabriel Ussery said his father has been in that line of work since before he was born. He described his father as “extremely funny and extremely smart” and always willing to lend a helping hand.

“Whenever I had problems, I could go to him with no issue, no matter what time of day,” Gabriel Ussery said. “We did pretty much everything together.”

That meant everything from reading books together to lounging on the couch, watching TV and going for long drives.

“I really can’t explain how I feel right now,” Gabriel Ussery said. “All that matters to me is that my dad’s gone.”

Beachgoers Alyssa Goldin and Ashley Kocenko, of West Palm Beach, watched the incident unfold. They said the man who was unconscious, later identified as Ussery, went into the water when he realized his friend was struggling.

Kocenko said police arrived on the scene and first were able to pull out the man who drifted north, later identified as DeLeon.

“It took a lot longer to get him [the unconscious man] out because he was stuck in the current,” Kocenko said.

Goldin said she had a near-drowning experience when she was a kid but was saved by her father who was big enough to battle the current.

“I just wanted them to be safe,” Goldin said. “It’s just so powerful to see such large men taken under like that.”

DeLeon could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

A coworker who asked that his name be withheld from publication declined to discuss Ussery’s death other than to say Ussery was “a good guy.”



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