St. Pete Beach mayor wants free swimming program

The mayor of St. Pete Beach has launched a fundraising effort after a weekend drowning off Pass-A-Grille.

"This is a new program that we are initiating in response to this tragedy," Mayor Maria Lowe said, referring to Saturday's drowning death of Cameron Bullard, 9.

"We want to empower the youth and even adults who can't swim to get this skill," she added.

In broad terms, the mayor outlined a plan to subsidize swimming lessons for non-swimmers at the town's community aquatic center.  A fundraising target has not been set, but the mayor said the center currently charges $45 for 8 swimming lessons.

Bullard was wading in shallow water with his siblings and a cousin when a rogue wave knocked them down.  

"The wave crashed the wrong way, and they all went down, they all went under," Sheriff Bob Gualtieri explained Monday afternoon.

An extensive search for the boy's body ended hours earlier when a marine unit spotted it on Shell Key, about a mile away from where he was last seen.

Although the boy was wading in very shallow water, there was a deeper trough of water between the shore and a sand bar.

Dive team leader Sgt. Glenn Wilson said an unusually large wave "can create kind of an undertow within that wave, and it can stop you from coming back to the surface.  So you're in essence spinning under the water under the wave action."

At the Monday news conference, Sheriff Gualtieri expressed doubts a lifeguard would have made any difference.

"It all happened so fast, and that current took him away so fast, and he went under so fast," Gualtieri said. "In a perfect world, which none of us live in, it would have been nice if he had been able to swim, but he didn't know how to swim."

The sheriff had not heard about the mayor's idea and could not respond to it directly, but he told FOX13,  "The more kids that know how to swim, the less chances that you're going to have a situation, a tragedy."