Honeymooner from Iowa drowns near Crescent Beach

Widow says it was 22-year-old husband's first time in ocean

By Francine Frazier - Senior web producer, Allyson Henning - Reporter

CRESCENT BEACH, Fla. - A newlywed from Iowa spending his honeymoon in St. Johns County drowned Tuesday in the ocean near Crescent Beach.

Dalton Cottrell, 22, and his 22-year-old wife, Cheyenne, were swimming in the ocean when they were pulled out by a strong current and Cottrell began to "freak out," his wife told deputies.

She said it was his first time in the ocean.

The couple, who were married Saturday, struggled in the water. The wife told deputies she tried to help Cottrell but he pulled her under. She said at one point he was under for a minute and when he came back up his eyes had rolled into the back of his head.

A surfer heard the two in distress, grabbed his board and swam out to help, according to a St. Johns County Sheriff's Office report. A lifeguard who had also responded put Cottrell on the board, and when they got him to shore, lifeguards tried CPR.

But Cottrell died at Flagler Hospital.

"I’m just devastated to find out that he didn’t make it," beachgoer Taylor Caswell said.

Several people on the beach at the time saw the tragedy unfold. They said the conditions were rough Tuesday and the couple was far offshore. 

"So much attention was on it even from the very beginning. We noticed all the families were lined up. They were watching and we were like, we want to know what’s going on but we don’t want to be in it because it’s like you knew it was like a line that you shouldn’t cross," beachgoer Chloe Molinaro said. "It was like so many people were hovering over because they knew it wasn’t going to turn out well."

Dalton CottrellCheyenne Cottrell wasn't ready to speak on camera Wednesday, but told News4Jax her husband (pictured right) was on the path to a become a pastor. She said he was an encourager to all and quick to help anyone who needed it. The widow said he cared for people and loved them, but most importantly, he loved the God he was serving.

"Dalton was amazing. He was a fantastic husband," she wrote in a text. "He loved puns of any kind and would tell them over and over."

Cottrell was a student at the Faith Baptist Bible College and Theological Seminary in Iowa.

"The Faith community was devastated by the news of the passing of one of our students, Dalton Cottrell," Faith said on its website. "Dalton was from Malcom, Iowa, and was a Pastoral Training major. He was a junior class representative for the Student Association, and he and Cheyenne had recently completed their junior years at Faith."

The statement continued: "Please keep the Cottrell family, Cheyenne and the entire Faith family in your prayers as we work through the difficult days ahead."

A GoFundMe page has been set up to help the family with Cottrell's funeral expenses. 

"On July 27, 2019, we got to witness the beautiful celebration of what the Lord had done in their lives, both separately and together, at their marriage ceremony. Never were there two more beautiful, deserving people, and the future was bright," the organizer of the GoFundMe wrote of Cottrell and his wife.

In a public post, Cheyenne Cottrell asked for prayers as she and family members grieve. 

St. Johns County Marine Rescue offered advice for swimmers to stay safe in strong currents. If possible, swim by a lifeguard. If you do happen to get caught in a rip current, do not panic. Try to remain calm and swim parallel to the shoreline until you’re out of it.

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