MANATEE COUNTY, Fla. — A lot of families in the Tampa Bay area and out-of-state visitors are getting ready for spring break.
That's why Manatee County leaders have sounded a note of warning about staying safe around the water and preventing drowning accidents. They say they not only want families to enjoy their vacation but also survive it and return home intact.
Pediatric drowning has become a key concern for emergency management leaders. They say two drownings have already occurred this year and last year, around 19 children under the age of 18, drowned or nearly drowned.
One of those children was 3-year old Lylah Bardwell, who did not survive the tragic accident.
"She gave us one of those infamous hugs, all the way up to the car and she blew us kisses all down the driveway as her daddy held her," said Courtney Bardwell, Lylah's mom.
"As a parent, for those of you that have been parents, you know you do everything you can for your kids. You're always trying to think about what's best for them, you are always trying to think about how do you help them," said Tom Bardwell, Lylah's dad.
Tom and Courtney Bardwell's daughter drowned in their backyard pool in April last year as she tried to "rescue" a doll she'd thrown into the pool area. Her dad was with her inside the house but was momentarily distracted by a phone call when she slipped away.
The Bardwell family shared their story in hopes that their tragedy would help others stay safe around water.
"A false sense of security, I mean we had a gate up, she never tried to get to that gate. The gates have never been an issue but somehow she got through the gate," Bardwell said.
County officials said drowning is a silent killer and urged that before going near bodies of water, people need to ensure they have basic swimming skills, wear safety vests and supervise their children.
"Usually, there are lifeguards at the beaches around here, go to those beaches. Get educated, there are plenty of resources out there to do that," said Sean Dwyer, Assistant Chief, Manatee County Special Operations.
Rip currents are also a concern at beaches in the area and officials have urged that when swimmers encounter rip currents, they should not panic.
"Ride the rip current out, relax and then swim either right or left of that current and don't try to fight back directly where you came from because that current will continue to exist," said Chief Joe Westerman, Manatee County Marine Patrol.
But most importantly, Lylah's dad wants parents to stay vigilant especially when they have small children whether they are at the beach, using a public pool, or if they or their friends have a private pool at home.
"Hopefully, it will keep at least one, or way many more children and people safe," Bardwell said.
Officials also advise that if you're in a group, or with children, to designate someone as a "water watcher" or "life saver." This would be an adult who can swim, knows CPR and isn't partaking in drinking alcohol or using any substance.
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