JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A 45-year-old mother of two drowned Sunday while trying to save her 11-year-old son’s life at Huguenot Park.
Penny Smith was in the water with her family and some friends at the beach when a rip current swept seven of them about 600 feet from shore.
Smith's boyfriend, Jesse Spicer, said two of them were able to get out quickly.
“I was trying to get her, and I just couldn’t reach her. I tried. I mean, I tried and I tried, but I just could not get to her,” Spicer said.
Witnesses said a woman with a boogie board managed to reach Smith and her son, Michael, and get Michael onto the board.
Spicer said despite his efforts, he couldn't get the attention of the lifeguard on shore.
“We were waving and hollerin’ and hootin’ and doing everything that we possibly could,” Spicer said. “I could see them plain as day. Why couldn’t they see me and her and him and our other two friends that were out there -- that were out there struggling just like we were -- that tried to get back to shore?”
After being alerted to Smith and Michael's distress by a bystander, lifeguard Samantha Llodra, went into the water after her and the child, according to the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office incident report.
Llodra told police that she found the child hanging onto the front of the boogie board and Smith was face down on the board. Llodra pulled both to shore and said Smith's vitals were “faint.”
Llodra told police she never saw Smith's face under the water.
Once Llodra got Smith and the child to shore, rescue personnel took over and took Smith to Baptist Nassau, where she died, police said.
“She died doing what moms do, you know, looking out for her kid,” Smith's daughter, Mikayla Smith, said. “She put everybody else first, you know? She would have been happy that we all made it out.”
Penny Smith’s smile, generosity and love are just a few of the things her loved ones will miss.
“I just want to say I love her and I miss her. She was a good mama,” Spicer said. “She did what she was supposed to do as a parent, that was to try to take care of her child. And, I'm going to miss her. I'm going to miss her so much.”
Ocean Rescue supervisor Brian Stafford said he can’t talk about an open investigation but did provide some insight about Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department lifeguard training and responsibility.
“Their responsibility of water is anything they can see. So if you look at this tower, for example, you’ve got tower six, which is down by the rocks and tower eight, which is down over here. They’re spread out from 150 to 200 yards, depending on the beach where they’re at,” Stafford explained.
Stafford said people call Huguenot a dangerous beach because it’s tough and tricky for even an experienced swimmer.
He said no matter how good a swimmer someone might be, they should check in with the closest lifeguard before they hit the water.
“If it’s flat out, you might think it’s nice and easy out,” Stafford said. “(But) rip currents can happen, depending on the tide.”
Penny Smith's rescue was one of about a dozen for Ocean Rescue personnel at Huguenot Park last weekend.
There have been 21 drownings in the News4Jax coverage area this year.
A GoFundMe account has been set up to help Penny Smith's family with funeral and other expenses.