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6 Drown in Stormy Florida Surf

Ex-CNN bureau chief is among the victims. Nearly 40 others are rescued from riptides.

June 10, 2003|From Associated Press

DESTIN, Fla. — Six people drowned, including a former CNN bureau chief, and nearly 40 others were rescued as stormy weather churned the surf along the beaches of the Florida Panhandle, officials said Monday.

Surfer Theo Laurent, 16, said he discovered two men floating facedown in the roiling surf Sunday. He turned them over and struggled to keep their heads above water.

"I was yelling as loud as I could when I would come up for air and there was nothing, no response at all from either of them," Laurent said Monday.

One victim, former CNN bureau chief Larry LaMotte, was dead -- one of five people who drowned Sunday on Florida Panhandle beaches. The other, Ken Brindley of Conway, Ark., had gone into the water to try to help LaMotte.

Brindley was in critical condition Monday, one of four swimmers who remained hospitalized after encountering treacherous riptides.

Another swimmer, David Dotson, 66, of Milton drowned Monday in the waters off Pensacola. All six drownings took place in an approximately 40-mile stretch of shoreline.

"It's kind of like the perfect storm on a much smaller scale," said Michael P. Kane, deputy chief of the South Walton Fire District.

Red flags warning people to stay out of the water were flying at the beaches.

"Yes, we saw the red flag and we ignored it, and I'm sad to say that," said Kim Hudgens, 35, of Columbus, Ga., who had been in the water with her four children Sunday.

LaMotte, 60, of Atlanta joined CNN in 1980 but no longer worked there, spokeswoman Megan Mahoney said. He was the cable network's first bureau chief in Dallas and later in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C.

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