STARKE, Fla. (WGFL) — A fun evening out on Little Lake Santa Fe turned tragic Monday night when 22-year-old James Curtis Jr. was cruising in his new boat with his girlfriend and niece and his bulldog jumped off.
“As quick as the dog went in the water, I mean just instinct, he went in the water to get the dog and unfortunately the boat continued to go,” said Donnie Lott, James’ cousin.
Deputies say Curtis’ niece called 911 as his girlfriend stopped the boat and jumped into the choppy water. She swam to try to get him a life preserver, but he was no where to be found.
“We started doing a search,” said Brad Smith with the Bradford County Sheriff’s Office. “We had helicopters out, we had drone units out, boats—people volunteering that lived on the lake that were volunteering their boats to help search for him.”
Smith said officials found the body around 10 PM.
“They took us to the Bradford boat ramp where they established the search then we went to the Melrose boat ramp to identify his body,” said Christy Curtis, James’ mother.
The Curtis family says James was an entrepreneur, a family man and a hard worker.
Out of high school, he went into the National Guard where he had extensive training—much of it in the water.
“He was very athletic. Very fit,” Christy said. “The trouble with trying to save this puppy—that’s what made him continue to burn his energy,” James Curtis Sr., James’ father, added.
The sheriff’s office says this just goes to show everyone needs to be wearing a life jacket regardless of their swimming abilities.
When asked what they want their son to be remembered for, his parents responded, “Just being gracious. A good gracious soul.”