WEEKI WACHEE, Fla. - A Hernando County Sheriff's Office marine deputy and a trainee stopped for a lunch break during their patrol of the Weeki Wachee River Friday. They spent the first half of their day checking watercraft for safety equipment.
They stopped their sheriff's office personal watercraft near the 2-mile marker just as a nearby canoe began to overturn. Within seconds, the pair were in a race against time to save a baby that had gone overboard when the canoe flipped.
Marine Deputy Steve Snell said he heard a woman screaming. His trainee, Patrol Deputy Zachary Burkhart got onto Snell's watercraft and they sped over.
"We heard a female scream 'my baby,'" Snell recalled. "We turned, we see a canoe overturned with a male on one side and female on the other side and we did not see an infant or a child."
The water was about 6 or 7 feet deep. The strong current made it difficult for the parents to reach their child.
"The mom was frantic, she was trying to look for the baby, I was trying to locate where the baby was," Burkhart said.
Marine Deputy Steve Snell (R) and Patrol Deputy Zachary Burkhart (L) rescued a baby from an overturned canoe in the Weeki Wachee River.
When the deputies righted the canoe, they saw an infant car seat, upside down in the water. The four-month-old baby was strapped in and not wearing a life jacket.
"At that time, the baby had its eyes closed and mouth was closed and it didn't appear the chest was rising," Snell recalled.
They rushed to shore and, when they got there, the baby opened its eyes and started crying.
Hernando County Fire Rescue took the child to the hospital.
Investigators said when the parents rented the canoe, a worker at the canoe rental company put a life jacket on the baby before the family left. They're trying to figure out when and why the parents took the life jacket off the infant.
Deputy Snell issued a citation to the father for having a child under six not in a life jacket.
On that particular day, Deputy Burkhart was shadowing Deputy Snell. Otherwise, there would've only been one deputy on the water to help, making the rescue that much more difficult.
"It happened so fast," Burkhart said. "The whole situation kind of went through about one minute."
"It was fortunate that he was with me, that it occurred where it did, we were together, and like we said, we did it without thinking," Snell said.