Two men died in a series of boating mishaps that left two girls drifting alone across a Florida lake, according to the Polk County Sheriff’s Office.
The men have been identified as Jeffrey Marrero and Orlando Ortiz, the sheriff’s office said in a news release.
They died March 18 on Lake Eloise, while attempting to rescue 38-year-old Velcky Velasquez of Winter Haven, officials said.
She survived by floating on her back as their boat drifted away, officials said.
“At 4:12 p.m. … the 10-year-old daughter of Jeffrey Marrero from Auburndale called 911 to report that she and her 8-year-old sister were alone on a boat on Lake Eloise,” the sheriff’s office reported.
“Deputies Glenda Eichholtz and Jonathan Munoz … and (a) Good Samaritan found the boat with the two little girls in it. Deputy Munoz got onto that boat and drove them to the nearby Legoland dock. The deputies then found Ms. Velasquez treading water a distance away from the boat.”
Sonar found the bodies of Marrero and Ortiz on March 20, in 16 feet of water, officials said. They were located about 350 yards from shore, officials said.
The group was on the lake celebrating the one-year anniversary of Velasquez and 32-year-old Ortiz as a couple, officials said. All three adults are inexperienced boaters and were using a rented 16-foot Tahoe ski boat, officials said.
Velasquez told investigators the mishaps began when they stopped in the middle of the lake and she “jumped into the water with the anchor” while attempting to tie it to the boat. Heavy 20 mph winds and two-foot waves quickly pushed the boat away, leaving her struggling in the water, officials said.
“The two men jumped into the water to help her. They are not strong swimmers,” the sheriff’s office said.
“Apparently, Ms. Velasquez is a better swimmer. And at some point in time when they can’t catch the boat, Ms. Velasquez says she sees them struggling to stay above the water. She starts to float. The boat is now moving farther away.”
The boat with the two girls aboard continued drifting across the lake into a swamp, where it got hung up in weeds, officials said.
It is believed the two men died in the water trying to catch the boat, officials said.