A St. James Parish man drowned this weekend after he and his wife were thrown from their rented personal watercraft into Choctawhatchee Bay near Destin, Fla., and the man’s life jacket came off, Florida authorities said Wednesday.
Andrew Clayton, 30, of Gramercy, was driving the 13-foot craft with his wife, Brandy, 32, sitting behind him when it hit the wake of a boat shortly before 5 p.m. Saturday, Florida wildlife officials said.
“The life jacket came off and his wife, Brandy, struggled with him to get him up and apparently this went on for several minutes,” said Stan Kirkland, spokesman for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, which is investigating the crash.
Passing boaters helped the Claytons, who were in Destin celebrating their one-year wedding anniversary, get out of the water.
Andrew Clayton was later taken to the nearby Fort Walton Beach Medical Center where he was pronounced dead, Kirkland said.
He said Brandy Clayton told investigators that Andrew Clayton could swim but not well.
The crash happened in the bay about 350 yards northwest of Destin’s U.S. Coast Guard Station. The bay is a large inlet of the Gulf of Mexico and stretches between Walton and Okaloosa counties.
Kirkland said Andrew Clayton’s life vest, which was recovered from the water, had two of three buckles undone.
Wildlife investigators are still probing how Clayton came out of the vest.
Kirkland said there were no violations in connection with Clayton’s operation of the watercraft or the business, Fudpucker’s, which rented the craft to him.
“It wasn’t an equipment issue,” Kirkland said.
Jeff Martin, director of the District 1 Medical Examiner’s Office, which serves four Florida Panhandle counties, including Walton and Okaloosa, said the office is ruling the crash an accident and Clayton’s cause of death a drowning.
The office did not conduct an autopsy at the family’s request but made the determination based on crash circumstances, Martin said.
Kirkland said alcohol or drug impairment do not immediately appear to be a factor, though toxicology tests are pending.
He said wildlife investigators’ probe into the boating accident is expected to take two to three months to complete.
Attempts to reach the Claytons and their family by telephone were unsuccessful Wednesday.