BREAKING: Fisherman drowned during Lake O tournament, medical examiner says


Nik Kayler, the fishing tournament competitor tossed into Lake Okeechobee in January, died by drowning, a medical examiner’s report says.

While the report doesn’t elaborate, Kayler’s half-brother said Tuesday that other details the family has learned would back the idea of drowning, as opposed to hypothermia, which had been a consideration because of the frigid waters into which Kayler was thrown.

Evidence suggests “he was unconscious when he went into the water,” Anthony Llanos said Tuesday.

At the time of the tournament, a cold snap had brought low temperatures around the lake into the upper 30s to low 40s, and the water was believed to have been in the low-to-mid 50s.

Llanos said Kayler still had all the cold-weather clothing he’d layered on, even his gloves, when his body was found near Clewiston during an extensive search. 

“It was as if he never tried to get anything off,” Llanos said. The former U.S. Marines water survival instructor said Tuesday a person likely would shed as much clothing as possible when hitting the water “so you can swim.”

On Jan. 10, a commercial boat found the remains of Kayler, a 38-year-old military veteran, husband and father, in the lake near a water tower in Clewiston. 

Kayler, of Apopka, and tournament fishing partner Bill Kisiah, 51, from Slidell, La., had left Okeechobee on the morning of Jan. 4, the first day of the Fishing League Worldwide’s three-day Costa Series tournament. A search began when the two failed to check in around suppertime. At about 11 p.m., an exhausted Kisiah and his 21-foot Ranger Z521 came ashore near the Pahokee Marina. Kisiah briefly was hospitalized. He could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

During the search, Llanos said authorities told him Kayler was in the back of the boat when “it kind of speared the wave. It killed the motor.” That’s when Kayler went overboard. Llanos said he was told Kisiah then tried and failed to restart the engine, even as a strong wind pushed the boat farther from Kayler.

Llanos said he also was told subsequent waves eventually swamped the boat, and that Kisiah ended up in the lake and eventually crawled back in, got to its bow and used the trolling motor to try to get to shore. 

A spokesman for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, which is conducting the investigation into Kayler’s death, said this week that the investigation is not complete and so nothing will be released at this time.

Because Kayler’s body was recovered on the Hendry County side of the lake, the autopsy was done by the Lee County Medical Examiner in Fort Myers, which covers Lee, Hendry and Glades counties in southwest Florida.

The autopsy report obtained Tuesday by The Palm Beach Post, through a public records inquiry, said Kayler was “ejected from boat into water and submerged,” but it lists “environmental exposure” as a contributing condition. 

The report did say Kayler had on a life vest, a fishing jacket, a hat, a thermal face mask and neck guard, a thermal shirt and thermal pants, along with jeans, a long-sleeve shirt, a hooded sweater and gloves.

It said the body showed “no evidence of acute blunt or penetrating trauma,” which would suggest Kayler did not hit his head on the boat on his way into the lake.

The report said Kayler had no appreciable blood-alcohol content and was free of any drugs.

A spokesman for the FLW tour said Tuesday he hadn’t yet seen the medical examiner’s report and couldn’t comment.

A money-raising webpage for Kayler’s family, set up with a goal of $15,000, collected more than $20,000 in it first day, and it stood Tuesday at about $87,000.


Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Local

Charges against strippers arrested with Stormy Daniels dropped, report says
Charges against strippers arrested with Stormy Daniels dropped, report says

Update 5:30 EDT July 18: The charges against the two strippers arrested with adult film star Stormy Daniels last week in Columbus, Ohio, have been dropped, according to BuzzFeed News. >> Read more trending news  Brittany Walters and Miranda Panda were taken into custody along with Daniels early last Thursday at the Sirens Gentleman&rsquo...
New Boynton Beach Wawa will ‘wake up the whole area’
New Boynton Beach Wawa will ‘wake up the whole area’

Wawa is not your average gas station. The Philadelphia-based chain has developed an almost cult-like following in its home state of Pennsylvania, and as more locations pop up around Palm Beach County, Florida fanatics of the chain are becoming more common. Adding to the Wawa hype in South Florida is the recent approval of the county&rsquo...
Move stalls: ‘A car will go down Fern, a 40-foot building will not’
Move stalls: ‘A car will go down Fern, a 40-foot building will not’

Bad weather, safety concerns and the unwieldy logistics of moving an antique, two-story building through a mile of city streets have stalled plans to turn downtown’s Edgewater rooming house into a bed and breakfast to reawaken the Historic Northwest neighborhood. West Palm Beach’s Community Redevelopment Agency was to receive the building...
Gov. Scott breaks with Trump on Putin, says he ‘completely disagrees’
Gov. Scott breaks with Trump on Putin, says he ‘completely disagrees’

Gov. Rick Scott on Wednesday broke with President Donald Trump’s recent comments about Russian President Vladimir Putin and his denial of meddling in the 2016 election. “I completely disagree with the president with regard to trusting Putin, trusting Russia,” Scott said during a campaign stop in Boca Raton on Wednesday afternoon....
State legislators proud of bills crafted after Irma, Parkland
State legislators proud of bills crafted after Irma, Parkland

Five state legislators representing Palm Beach County joined the Palm Beach North Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday to talk about recent legislative issues including school safety, Hurricane Irma and home rule bills. “We really did face a lot of challenges in Tallahassee because of the hurricane and then the tragedy in Parkland,” said District...
More Stories