ARCADIA — An unidentified woman is presumed to have drowned in the Peace River on Sunday afternoon, and on Monday authorities continued to search both for her and a man they believe may have pushed her to her death.
Another man, 28-year-old Andrew Jeremy Skevington of the 2200 block of N.W. Pine Creek Ave., Arcadia, was arrested by the DeSoto County Sheriff’s Office on a charge of accessory after the fact.
According to the DCSO, a 911 call came in Sunday from a boater on the Peace River who reported a woman had gone under water in the river near the State Road 70 bridge. There was also a man in the water whom the boater was able to save. But the woman — whom he had spotted grasping at a bridge pylon — slipped into the water and disappeared before the boater could reach her.
A witness reported to DCSO that two men (one of whom was reportedly Skevington) and a woman had been on the bridge that crosses the river from Morgan Park into Veterans Park. The woman, who is reportedly from the Tampa area, was standing on a ledge, and the witness said she was being pressured by one of the men to jump into the river. (The ledge was an enclosed cable or pipe about eight inches in diameter.)
She reportedly said she did not know how to swim. The witness said one of the men pushed the woman off the ledge into the river.
Skevington said that he then jumped in to try to help her, and that he was able to grab her. But she began to take him down, so he got to shore, but then returned to the water to try to grab her when she came to the State Road 70 bridge. He was rescued by the boater.
Soon after deputies arrived on scene, Skevington and another man left in a Jeep Cherokee. The other man reportedly told the witness not to tell the police about the incident “because he did not want to go to jail.” According to DCSO, Skevington and the other man gathered up most of the victim’s belongings, including her jacket, identification and wallet, before leaving the area.
DCSO said deputies later found Skevington at his Pine Creek residence and brought him to DCSO for an interview.
Skevington was arrested and charged as an accessory after the fact (manslaughter). As of Monday, DCSO, along with help from Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office (including its helicopter), Punta Gorda Police Department and Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, continued to search for the woman.
The other man for whom DCSO continues to search is said to be 5 feet 6 inches tall, thin, with shoulder-length blond hair, a goatee and a piercing in his lower lip.
The identity of the woman is not known. On Monday, a knot of local residents gathered on both the Morgan Park and the State Road 70 bridges, watching as authorities searched the river by boat and with divers.
DCSO kept Veterans Park blocked off to the public. One resident complained DCSO would not let locals help in the search on the river. However, Maj. Sam Williamson of DCSO said there were already several boats and trained divers in the river, and with the current so high, they did not want to take a chance of civilians being endangered as well.
Another drowning occurred in the Peace River a month ago. Richard F. Ellard, 52, of Arcadia, drowned a short distance upstream of the Nocatee boat ramp on Aug. 9 when his airboat overturned.