A local youth drowned at the mouth of the Suwannee and Santa Fe rivers in southern Suwannee County just before midnight on New Year's Eve in spite of efforts by four of his friends to save him as he tried to swim a second time across the Suwannee River. Before the incident was over, two of the rescuers almost drowned themselves, according to the Suwannee County Sheriff's Office (SCSO) report.

According to SCSO, the body of Randy David Norris Jr., 19, of 17722 CR 136 west, Live Oak, was recovered Jan. 2 at about 3:45 p.m. from near where he went down just before midnight Dec. 31. The recovery came after two days of searching the rivers near the spot where Norris went down after swimming from the Suwannee County side of the Suwannee to Gilchrist County and attempting to return.

According to the SCSO report on the incident, Norris was at a river house at 30824 65th Place for the New Year's holiday with friends when the incident happened. According to witnesses' accounts, Norris and Dalton Kurtz, 19, of Jacksonville, swam across the river to talk to some girls who were on the other side. About 45 minutes later, they were attempting to return when Norris got into trouble in the water and began screaming for help, the report said. At first Kurtz and some of Norris' friends on shore thought Norris was playing around. But, when Kurtz saw his friend start to submerge, he swam over to help him, the report said. Kurtz pulled Norris to the surface three times, but the third time Kurtz told officers he almost drowned himself and had to pull away. Norris went down again and did not resurface, Kurtz told officers. Kurtz said he stayed in the same area trying to find his friend, but never saw him again.

Meanwhile, three others on shore had jumped into the river to try and help. Caylon Warner, 21, of Live Oak, said when he heard Norris' call for help from the center of the river that he jumped into the river and started swimming out to help him. Christopher Parker, 19, Live Oak, and a 16-year-old boy also jumped into the river to help. No one could find Norris, who had by that time gone done the last time. But, Parker then began calling for help himself as he got into trouble in the water and was helped to shore by Warner.

Misty Miller, 22, of Live Oak, grabbed a cell phone lying on the ground and called 911 for help as she watched the traumatic incident from shore involving her friends.

Soon Sheriff Tony Cameron and deputies, along with FWC officer Matt Tyre who brought his boat and began searching the river, were all on scene. Lafayette County Sheriff's Office, a K-9 team from Alachua County, Taylor County Sheriff's Office and dive team and the Pinellas County Dive Team who brought high-tech Sonar equipment to the scene arrived to help also, Suwannee County Chief Deputy Ron Colvin said. Friends and family members assisted at the scene by combing the river in boats searching for their loved one.

The Sonar and specially trained K-9 dogs led to the discovery of Norris' body, Sheriff Cameron said. The sheriff said officers used boats to tag areas where the Sonar found possible sites the body might be located and then used K-9 dogs in boats which alerted on one site where divers then found the body.

Norris, who attended Friendship Baptist Church, was the son of Randy and Missy Norris Sr., and was the brother of Megan Norris and Daniel Norris, all of Live Oak; and was the grandson of Jan Jacobsen, Jacksonville, Larry Jacobsen, Lake Havasu, AZ, and Dave and Betty Norris of Live Oak.

The teenager was a graduate of Tabernacle Baptist School and had hoped to become an EMT/paramedic/fire fighter.

Viewing for Norris will be held at Daniels' Funeral Home from 6 - 8 p.m. Friday, Jan. 6. Funeral services will be held Saturday, Jan. 7 at Southside Baptist Church, Live Oak, at 11 a. m. with the Rev. Milton Smith and the Rev. Tommy Brett officiating. Interment will follow in Live Oak Cemetery.

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