CLEARWATER — Adon Chavis and Jaime Gatewood were getting ready to close down the bait shop on Clearwater’s fishing pier when someone jumped off the wharf.
“This was close to 10 at night, it’s pitch black, and someone came in the store and yelled, ‘Hey, someone jumped out there and they can’t swim,’” Chavis told the Beacon. “I thought at first someone was just messing around. My second thought was, ‘It’s night, he can’t be seen, and the tide will pull you out.’ We immediately ran out there.”
Gatewood did not want to be quoted for this article.
Pier 60 — the symbolic western terminus of State Road 60 — juts 1,080 feet into the Gulf of Mexico. Depending on the tide, the water at the end of the pier can be from 7 to 14 feet deep. When Chavis and Gatewood reached the end of the dock, they discovered that two young men — either on a bet or a dare — had jumped into the water. One man had swum back to shore but the second man, who Chavis believes could not swim, clung to the pier’s pilings.
“He was in a fetal position around the pylon, so his entire body was exposed to the barnacles, which are sharp and can cut,” Chavis said.
He called down and saw that the current was trying to draw the victim away from the pilings and into deeper water.
“The waves were definitely pulling him out; if he was to get 10 more feet away from us, we wouldn’t have been able to see him. There are lights that jut out in the water, but they are not extremely bright.”
The city of Clearwater owns the pier as well as the bait shop; insurance policies as well as common sense require public piers to be equipped with life rings or other flotation devices, and employees trained in some level of water rescue. Chavis said he remembered his training.
“We had trained beforehand, so I knew the life ring was in the big, orange case hanging at the end of the pier,” the 19-year-old said. “You have to pull out the ring and the line attached to it in a certain way, it’s about a 10-second process.”
Because he’d been yelling down instructions, the man in the water knew what to do.
“When I threw the ring out, he immediately pushed off of the piling and grabbed onto it. It was clear he couldn’t swim.”
Chavis then held on to the line and walked along the pier’s railing toward shore, towing the man toward shallower water. Once he was able to stand, the man — who was helped ashore by the other jumper — walked the rest of the way out of the water. Clearwater Police and emergency medical technicians responded to the scene after pier staff called them, dispatch notes show.
That was on July 17, and on Nov. 21 the City Council honored Chavis — now a communications trainee with the Clearwater Police Department — for his quick action. As he stood at the podium before the council, City Manager Bill Horne read a proclamation naming Chavis the city’s Employee of the Month for October.
“Adon ran out to the end of the pier to throw the life preserver to the jumper,” Horne read into the record. “The jumper grabbed a hold of it and Adon pulled him towards the bait house. All the while, Adon kept talking to him and telling him to hold onto the life ring until he was brought to the sandbar. Adon’s quick action and ability to stay calm saved this person’s life. Adon went above and beyond his job duties at Pier 60.”
Clearwater Police Chief Dan Slaughter watched as Chavis accepted his proclamation. Chavis then shook the hands of Horne, City Clerk Rosemarie Call, and the city councilmembers.
Slaughter, who hired Chavis as a communications trainee, said Chavis would be an asset in the post, “where quick thinking and decision making are part of the skill set every day.”
“We are proud of the actions Adon took to help someone who easily could have been swept out into the open waters of the Gulf of Mexico,” Slaughter told the Beacon. “His quick thinking and quick actions may have saved a life that day.”