Florida man who can't swim jumps into lake while fleeing police, gets arrested anyway

Posted at 5:01 PM, Jan 24, 2019
and last updated 2019-01-24 18:01:52-05

SARASOTA, FL — A Florida man fleeing the law decided to jump into a lake to avoid authorities even though he didn't know how to swim.

Sarasota County Sheriff's deputies responded to a call of suspicious activity on Friday around 11 a.m. to find the man entering a parked van on the side of the road, according to a press release. When the sheriff's deputies attempted to talk to Richard Garay, he "quickly fled," and jumped into a nearby lake.

The department's aviation unit captured video showing Garay struggling to stay above water after venturing to the middle of the lake.

A deputy is then seen taking off his tactical belt before jumping in after Garay, swimming toward him as his head bobs in and out of the water.

Once the deputy gets hold of Garay, another first responder swims toward them and helps them grab a yellow rope that was thrown into the water. A third first responder on shore then pulls them in, and once on land, the first responders are seen providing medical assistance to the suspect.

Deputy CJ Sunderman was one of the first on the scene and saw Garay jump into the lake, telling reporters on Wednesday that he was "startled," according to Fox Tampa affiliate WTVT.

While Garay waded in the water with gusto at first, "all of a sudden he just lost all kind of strength," and "began to go under and not resurface," Sunderman said.

Capt. John Walsh jumped into the lake first with Sunderman following closely behind him, Sunderman said, adding that they "didn't even think twice."

"As soon as we saw that, our instincts kicked in, our training kicked in," he said.

At the hospital, Garay admitted that he is unable to swim but said he went into the lake to avoid being arrested on several warrants, authorities said.

As Sunderman was leaving the hospital, Garay thanked him and the other first responders for saving him.

Garay, who lives in the town of Nokomis -- about 20 miles south of Sarasota -- is unemployed and is still in custody at the Sarasota County jail on $4,500 bond, according to jail records.

He was charged with obstruction without violence and contempt of court for a charge of driving without a license and leaving the scene of an accident for damage greater than $50 without leaving his information, jail records show.

In a statement, Sarasota County Sheriff Tom Knight commended the deputies for acting "quickly and selflessly to render aid to someone who has a complete disregard for law enforcement."

"Unfortunately incidents like this happen all too often but this is what we train for," Knight said.

Sunderman described the rescue as "just another day on the job."

"No matter what, if you are a criminal, if you are in distress we are going to save you," Sunderman said. "We are going to save your life -- it doesn't matter. It’s what we are trained to do. It’s part of the job."

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