Baldwin County Sheriff’s Office (BCSO) deputy William “Bill” Smith was killed Sunday and deputy Sydney Wentworth was hospitalized, after succumbing to the surf during an attempt to rescue swimmers in distress. According to Sheriff Huey Mack, Smith, 57, responded to a 911 call off Fort Morgan Road near Dune Drive at approximately 6 p.m.
There, Wentworth had entered the water in an attempt to rescue a vacationer identified as Adrienne Korecky. An unnamed, male beach attendant who witnessed the struggle also entered the water, but he too was pulled out to rougher water.
Mack acknowledged that although neighboring Gulf Shores and Orange Beach were flying orange flags at the time, indicating a moderate surf risk, thunderstorms moving through the area late Sunday intensified surf conditions.
“We do believe rip current was involved,” he said. “We believe the surf was continuing to grow while this was going on.”
Smith arrived on scene and entered the water to assist the beach attendant. According to the BCSO, “the attendant recalled being grabbed by someone who told him to hold on to a rescue buoy and swim to shore. The person who grabbed him was Deputy Bill Smith. As Deputy Smith was towing the beach attendant to shore, Deputy Smith was overcome by the heavy seas. Deputy Smith went under water and began to struggle in the rough water and strong current. Deputy Smith eventually stopped swimming and had to be rescued from the water.”
Smith and the beach attendant were pulled to shore by Logan Lambert of the Gulf Shores Fire Department. Wentworth successfully saved Korecky, but was briefly admitted to South Baldwin Regional Medical Center in Foley.
Smith was transported to the recently opened Freestanding Emergency Department in Gulf Shores. Mack said physicians tried to resuscitate him for more than an hour before he was pronounced dead.
He leaves behind a wife and two adult sons. Funeral arrangements are expected to be announced Wednesday.
Bill Smith was a seven-year veteran of the BCSO, joining the force in a mid-career move from North Alabama. Before joining law enforcement, he was deputy chief of Dekalb County, Georgia Fire Department and worked at the Weaver Fire Department in Alabama. Prior to joining the BCSO, he worked for the Calhoun County Sheriff’s Office in Anniston.
Both he and Wentworth were the inaugural full-time employees of the BCSO’s newly created Fort Morgan beach detail, a patrol effort funded by the Baldwin County Commission last October in response to growing concerns about growth and safety along the 20-mile long Fort Morgan peninsula. There, just a handful of beaches are patrolled by private lifeguards, but the Fort Morgan Volunteer Fire Department may also respond to rescues.
Smith and Wentworth participated in lifeguard training with the Gulf Shores Fire Department, Mack said, and the investigation will determine what equipment was available and what equipment was used in the fatal rescue.
During a news conference Monday, Mack fought back tears as he described Smith’s enthusiasm for the beach detail.
“Bill Smith did what Bill Smith always did,” Mack said. “He saw the need to put his life on the line to save somebody else’s and that’s what he did. He saved a life yesterday.”
Wentworth has since been released from the hospital and is recovering at home, Mack reported.
“What we intended for the beach patrol to do absolutely worked yesterday,” he said. “Had we not had that response, we could have lost one or two other lives yesterday, other than Deputy Smith.”
Mack thanked fellow first responders from the Fort Morgan Volunteer Fire Department, the Gulf Shores Fire Department and the U.S. Coast Guard for participating in the response. He is asking anyone with eyewitness reports or video of the incident to call investigators.
Mack said there has been “a tremendous outpouring of support” from the community, and Smith’s patrol truck will be on display at the BCSO Central Annex Building in Robertsdale for visitation. Smith is the first member of the BCSO to be killed in the line of duty since Deputy Scott Ward was shot and killed after he responded to a domestic disturbance south of Fairhope in 2012.
“Everybody understands the nature (of the work) that these people go into every day and that’s why we honor them, that’s why we remember them,” Mack said.
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