Last Thursday evening, May 15th, a near drowning was averted at about 6:05 PM at Vilano Beach; the life of a local 12-year-old student, Austin C. Wesp, was mercifully spared from severe injury or probable death after he went into the surf near the large granite jetties that shoal the St Augustine Inlet.
Austin was at the beach, under the care of 42-year-old Dawn Lamonte. He was playing with Lamonte’s children; 12-year-old Krista and 11-year-old Scott Taylor, who had accompanied Wesp when they decided to walk out onto the Vilano Jetties.
According to the incident report filed from the scene by Sheriff’s Corporal Kevin J Roberts, Austin reported to him that he and his friends decided to enter the surf just north of the Jetties.
That’s when things began to go bad. Accounts of what happened next are not 100% clear, and published accounts of statements, taken from the incident report and subsequent official press release, have changed somewhat.
According to Austin’s mother, Amy Wesp Rodriguez of St Augustine, 21-year-old Dustan Chase Doucette, who lives in Madeira Heights subdivision on Anastasia Island, heard people yelling on the beach and pointing to the water.
“He saw my son yelling for help,” Rodriguez told local Historic City News reporters today. “As the rip current pulled Austin under; Dustan paddled to my son, pulled him out of the water, onto his surfboard, and pulled him to shore.”
Rodriguez, who was not present at the beach when the incident occurred, reports that the deputies and paramedics were on the beach. She told Historic City News editor Michael Gold, that her account of the incident is taken from her son’s recollection of last Thursdays events.
However, only moments after the rescue occurred, during the on-scene interview, Corporal Roberts wrote that Austin told him he entered the water and was immediately overcome by the waves. He told Roberts that he was not able to return to shore. Austin reported that he was “yelling for help” and quickly became tired as he tried to swim ashore.
During that contemporaneous interview, the report indicates that Austin said he was in the water for several minutes before Deputy Cameron Coward reached him and pulled him to shore. Wesp stated to Roberts that he swallowed “a large amount of sea water”, but he did not feel as though he lost consciousness.
Corporal Roberts wrote that he took statements from both of the Taylor children, Krista and Scott. Roberts reports that those statements are consistent. Both Krista and Scott Taylor entered the water with Austin Wesp and immediately realized the water was too strong, however, they were able to return to the beach. The Taylors attempted to walk across the jetties together as the waves moved Austin south into the inlet.
Krista and Scott Taylor did not re-enter the water, but they did attempt to walk out on the dangerous, slippery surface of the jetties to try to reach Austin. In the process, they both sustained minor lacerations to their legs and abdomens as a result of several falls on the rocks, according to emergency medical personnel who treated the children at the scene.
Initial reports mention Doucette as “an unknown surfer” who gave immediate aid, but apparently did not stick around after Austin was safely on dry ground to be identified.
Following the Historic City News story, a flurry of comments on social media websites and media websites, including ours, began to challenge the praise and thanks being shown to Deputy Cameron Coward who, without dispute, played a role in the boy’s rescue.
In fact, the drowning boy’s mother, wrote “Thank you Officer Coward for keeping my son calm and telling him the rainbow that suddenly appeared was for him. You made him feel God at that moment.”
Yet, only hours later, after we had identified Dustan Doucette as the “unknown” surfer, feedback from Historic City News readers, including 51-year-old Amy Wesp Rodriguez, turned critical of the deputy.
“I am just floored that the credit was given to this police officer and the St Johns County Sheriff’s Office,” Rodriguez wrote. “Although they assisted in the rescue, which I am thankful for, I do not feel that embellishing the truth to their benefit is the correct lesson to give to my child or this community.”
In any event, Austin and his mother were able to meet Dustan Doucette yesterday evening at the scene of the frightening near tragedy. According to an e-mail received by Historic City News from Rodriguez, the name of the “true hero” in this story is Dustan Doucette.
“Such a humble young man who offered tonight to teach my son to surf,” Rodriguez responded to Doucette’s proposal. “Please do a follow up praising this man’s heroism.”