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I-TEAM: Doctor among witnesses who tried to save UF Health Jax CEO after WaveRunner accident

Sister of Dr. Leon Haley Jr. says she’s grateful for bystanders who rushed to help

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A doctor said he tried to save the life of UF Health Jacksonville CEO Dr. Leon Haley Jr. after a personal watercraft accident over the weekend in Palm Beach County.

“I don’t think we did anything that he wouldn’t have done,” said anesthesiologist Dr. Joseph Cody, who was one of the witnesses who tried to help.

Haley, 56, died in the accident, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Lisa Huff, Haley’s sister, told the News4Jax I-TEAM that she is incredibly grateful for the bystanders who rushed to help her brother. She has a home in Riviera Beach and said he was visiting her over the weekend when the accident happened.

Dr. Leon Haley Jr. and family. (Lisa Huff)

Cody said he was out boating with friends on Saturday when he noticed the aftermath of the personal watercraft accident at the Palm Beach Inlet jetty.

“We saw some people calling for help and we weren’t sure what was going on, so I said, ‘Hey, I’m a doctor. Do you need a doctor?’ And they said, ‘Yes, please. Please come help us,’” Cody recalled.

He said two fisherman had already jumped into the water to help the man who was thrown from the Yamaha WaveRunner that crashed into the rocks. At the time, they did not know that man was Haley.

“I saw Dr. Haley out of control on his jet ski a little bit, might have been a wake from a boat,” said Tim Palmer, another witness. “He flew off, and I didn’t see after that, and the jet ski came rolling up onto the jetty.”

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Cody said he rushed over to the rocks.

“I said, ‘Is he breathing? Is he talking?’ They said, ‘No,’” Cody recounted.

He said the Coast Guard showed up and they helped get Haley on that boat.

“I said, ‘This gentleman is not breathing. I’m not sure if he has a pulse. Start CPR,’” Cody said. “I helped the Coast Guard with CPR until the EMS crew came and took over.”

Haley was rushed to a nearby hospital, where he died.

Haley’s sister said she and her 14-year-old son were on a different WaveRunner at the time of the accident. She said the witnesses made sure her son was OK and risked their own lives to try to save her brother.

Cody said he cried when he found out Haley was a fellow doctor.

“It was like a doctor who would have done the same thing for me,” he said. “I tried to help him. It’s just crazy.”

Cody said the legacy Haley left behind will never go unnoticed. Haley is known for his dedication to the fight against COVID-19. Cody said he can relate to him, as he works on the frontlines in a South Florida hospital. He said Haley is now an inspiration to him.

Haley will be laid to rest in Pittsburgh this weekend. UF Health Jacksonville said it will hold a memorial event at the hospital sometime next week. Haley’s sister told News4Jax that Haley loved Jacksonville and his time at UF Health.

Huff also said she hopes to personally thank the bystanders who tried to save her brother.

At this time, it’s unclear what led to the accident. According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, this is still an active, ongoing investigation.

About the Author:

Reports weeknights for The Ten O'Clock News and News4Jax at 11.