A candlelight vigil will be held Thursday to honor a 19-year-old man who drowned while attempting to swim across Black Creek at the Main Street Boat Ramp in Middleburg.
Divers with the Clay County Sheriff's Office recovered the body of Howard Wiley IV of Orange Park after searching for more than two hours Wednesday.
Deputies said bodies and objects usually drift a couple hundred feet east of the dock at the boat ramp because the current is so strong, but Wiley's body was recovered straight out from the dock.
CCSO marine units were involved in the search for the teen, and shortly after Wiley's body was found, a relative close to Wiley arrived at the boat ramp.
Alex Karchaske was swimming across Black Creek with Howard Wiley IV when Wiley started to struggle.
"He was swimming just fine and after a while I turned around and heard no sound, no water movement, no nothing, I turned back around (and) he's gone. He brings his head above water and screaming help,” said Alex Karchaske. “After seeing his frightening face, I cannot get that out of my head right now."
Karchaske told News4Jax that he desperately tried to save Wiley.
"With me trying to get him out of the water, he pushed me under like four or five times. I about drowned with him," said Karchaske. "I felt a big jerk from him. He jerked away from me, his hand got loose, I went back underwater searching for him, I couldn’t find him since and I had to go back toward shore because I couldn’t get a breath or anything. I was about to drown myself."
Witnesses said about 20 people were in the area when Wiley went under.
"He was saying, 'Help, I’m drowning,' and kept saying that until he went under," said Monica Daniel.
"It’s just really sad to see someone disappear like that," said Dillon Riley. "As soon as we almost get across, he starts going under and comes back up saying, 'I’m drowning, I’m drowning. Help me. Help me.'"
Swimming is not allowed within 100 feet of the boat ramp and several “No Swimming” signs are posted around the dock, but locals said a lot of people swim there anyway.
"We do come periodically with deputies and ask people to get out of water and leave, but we can’t have a deputy posted here 24/7. When we leave, people come back and swim but we do our best to enforce it," said Clay County Sheriff Office’s Mary Justino.
Justino said even though the water looks calm, the current is strong and the creek is dark and full of debris. After two hours and 15 minutes of searching for Wiley, divers found his body underwater, near the boat ramp.
"Certainly this is a summertime ritual for a lot of folks who want to jump in Black Creek. It’s clean, cool water. It’s a fun thing to do, but this is one of the reasons, unfortunately, why it’s posted that this is a no swimming area. It’s really not a safe place to swim," said Justino.
The boat ramp and docks are closed until further notice.
The candlelight vigil for Wiley is set for 7:30 p.m. for Thursday at Tanglewood Park in Orange Park.
Friends and family said anyone who knew Wiley is welcome to attend.