Family warns swimmers to be safe after man drowns

Cousin: ‘He died being a hero'

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – One family is warning how big of a threat the ocean can be after their loved one went under while swimming and his body washed on shore hours later.

The St. Johns County Sheriff's Office said the victim, 29-year-old Robert Hickson, of Jacksonville, was found Monday morning in Ponte Vedra Beach, about a quarter-mile north of where he'd disappeared Sunday evening.

RELATED: Missing swimmer identified after body found on beach

Deputies said Hickson was with family members on the beach at Guana on Sunday when his sister appeared to be in distress in the ocean. Hickson went in the water to help, but went under and disappeared, according to witnesses.

His family said they never imagined he wouldn’t come back.

“He actually died being a hero. That’s all I can say,” cousin Jaequan Fields said.

Fields said that’s one of the few things that gives him peace after losing his cousin, that Hickson died saving his sister’s life.

“I was in disbelief that the incident happened. But knowing him, how he is with his family, I could see him doing that,” Fields said.

Fields said his cousin loved his family and loved sports, even playing for the Jacksonville Spartans football team. Hickson worked as a car salesman.

“It’s really, really devastating. It’s really a shock. It’s like a dream. You really can’t believe that it happened,” Fields said.
Deputies said it was a calm day when Hickson and his family came to Ponte Vedra Beach.

But News4Jax Chief Meteorologist John Gaughn said rip currents can be the worst on beautiful beach days.

“Strangely, the scariest part of rip currents is the good weather that they often are accompanied by. It's not always the nor'easter that we see the big rip currents. They can often happen on those days where you think it's beautiful,” Gaughn said.

Gaughn said the threat for rip currents is not just the little ones, but larger ones that can pull out groups of people, not just one or two people.

And with Memorial Day Weekend approaching, Fields has a message for everyone heading to the beach.

“Enjoy this weekend, be safe. Everybody get home to your family and loves ones,” Fields said.

News4Jax found there were nine drownings last year and there have been 14 drownings this year, including eight in rivers, three in the ocean and one from a capsized boat. 

  • March 16: Michael Shreve, 39, drowned in the Altamaha River in Glynn County while trying to save a dog stuck in a current. The dog also drowned.
  • April 1: Putnam County sheriff’s deputy Brandee Smith died after she was thrown from a small boat operated by her boyfriend when it struck an unlighted channel marker in the St. Johns River in Welaka.
  • April 5: 7-month old Dylan Wroubel drowned in a bathtub at his home in Middleburg. His mother had fallen asleep in the tub with him.
  • April 8: Jacobi Clayton, 14, drowned in the St. Marys River at St. Marys Shoals Park, after jumping off a tree swing. He couldn’t swim.
  • April 16: William Moritz, 28, of Michigan drowned at Jacksonville Beach while saving his daughter from the rough surf.
  • April 17: Ahndray Clay, 21, and Billy Joe Hammonds, 23, drowned in the St. Johns River in Green Cove Springs. Clay had taken a dare and jumped off the pier. When he got into trouble, Hammonds went in to help, and both went under in a swift current.
  • April 27: Michael Troup, Rico Scott and James Fuller Jr. drowned in the Brunswick River after their boat capsized. None were wearing life vests. A fourth man survived because he did have one.
  • May 8: Jamarion Lee, 6, drowned in a retention pond off Nolan Street. He couldn’t swim.
  • May 14: Charles Morgan, 61, went under in the Altamaha Sound after his boat capsized. His brother Cliff Morgan was rescued by the Coast Guard.
  • May 21: James Dixon, 52, was pulled unresponsive from a swimming pool off Deepwood Court. He died at the hospital. The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office said he had been drinking.
  • May 22: Robert Hickson, 29, of Jacksonville drowned at Guana Preserve in St. Johns County.