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Miami Beach's Late Afternoon Drownings Raise Question Whether Lifeguards Need Longer Hours

On Tuesday, we reported that Miami Beach drownings have risen recently as the number of lifeguards has lagged behind the tally of tourists.

Lifeguards, public safety committee members, and locals have all asked for more guards working longer hours.

Two cases in particular show how longer lifeguard hours could save lives. Both men drowned just minutes after lifeguards left their towers.

See also: Drownings Rise in Miami Beach as Lifeguards Demand More Resources

United in death, the victims could not have been any more different in life.

Bryan Kent Foster was a convicted sex offender who landed in Miami Beach back in 2005. Court records paint a thin but painful portrait of his vagrant life. Despite warrants for his arrest in other states, nobody bothered to find Foster. Instead he was left to drift around town. He was arrested for sneaking into parks after hours and public drunkenness.

He was also arrested twice for breaking his sex offender registration requirements. The first time he served six months in prison.

The second time, he was luckier -- or so it seemed. Foster's case was dismissed on May 10, 2012. But there would be no new lease on life for Bryan.

Instead, just four days later, Foster decided to die. He spent his last dollars on whatever booze he could buy. Just after 7 p.m. -- when lifeguards left their towers for the day -- Foster gathered his meager belongings into a pile on the sand. It amounted to little more than a pair of well worn shoes and the paperwork identifying him as a sexual offender.

Then he stuffed sand into his sweatpants, tied them tightly, and walked into the sea.

If it's unclear whether longer lifeguard hours would have prevented Foster's suicide, it's much more certain that they would have spared George Knott.

Miami Beach's Late Afternoon Drownings Raise Question Whether Lifeguards Need Longer Hours
Ianaré Sévi via Wikimedia Commons

Knott was everything that Foster wasn't: successful, ambitious, and full of life. But the ocean claimed him, too, only a few weeks before Foster's suicide.

Knott, 56, had spent his life courting danger. He manned P3 anti-submarine planes for the U.S. Navy, says his father, George Knott, Sr. "He was an officer. He kind of ran the show," he says. "They would pick up Russian submarines off Vladivostok, and follow them around."

After retiring from the Navy, George Jr. taught physics at a college in Sacramento. He also traveled all around the world, climbing mountains.

"He had a remarkable life," his father says. "He was a risk taker, no question. I always asked him: 'What if you fall of the mountain?' He just said: 'Dad, just think I was very happy.' That was his attitude."

On April 29, 2012, Knott was in Miami Beach visiting climbing buddy Susan Anzalone. After working out, the two decided to take an evening swim.

At around 7:20 p.m. -- again, less than an hour after lifeguards left their posts -- Knott and Anzalone were caught in a powerful current. Knott, who was recovering from kidney disease, began to struggle.

Anzalone tried to help him stay afloat but began to sink herself. So she swam ashore and called 911. When she turned back to the ocean, Knott was gone.

His body was found half an hour later.

George Knott Sr. says he doesn't blame city officials or short lifeguard hours for his son's death, however. "When adults go in the ocean, what can you do?" he says over the phone from his home in San Jose. "We have that out here all the time on the west coast. People from Kansas sit on the rock and a big wave comes and washes them away."

Instead, he simply misses his son.

"I was supposed to meet him in Europe a week later. In Switzerland. He was going to do some climbing," he says. "I think of him almost every day."

George Sr. still goes swimming, despite his son's drowning, but doesn't go out as far as he used to.

Last summer, he took his friend's 7-year-old grandson to the beach in Maui. The old man and the boy walked onto the sand and stared at the waves. It was the first time the kid had seen the ocean.

"Grandpa, how far did George go out?" the boy asked.

Knott thought back to the year before, to his strong swimmer of a son who had been caught by a current and drowned.

"Don't worry," he told the boy. "We're not going out far. And I'll be with you."

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