Thursday, June 2, 2011

California man drowns himself in San Francisco Bay

Raymond Zack drowned himself as local police and firefighters stood on the beach and watched - 'handcuffed' by budget cuts to their water rescue program.

Raymond Zack drowned himself as local police and firefighters stood on the beach and watched - 'handcuffed' by budget cuts to their water rescue program.

Police and firefighters stood on a California beach and watched as a suicidal man waded into the San Francisco Bay and drowned in the surf.

The body of Raymond Zack was finally pulled from the 54-degree water by a passerby as local fire officials blamed budget cuts for their inability to save the man.

"We are absolutely going to do an investigation," Alameda, Calif., Mayor Marie Gilmore promised after the Memorial Day tragedy.

"And we are planning to do it in as transparent a way as possible."

Police and firefighters were brought to Robert Crown Memorial State Beach by a 911 call, authorities said.

Fire officials said the department's water rescue program disappeared with its funding in 2009. And an overtime cutback prevented firefighters from logging sufficient training hours for water rescues.

"The incident was deeply regrettable," said Alameda Fire Chief Mike D'Orazi.

"But I can also see it from our firefighters' perspective. They're standing there wanting to do something, but they are handcuffed by policy."

The policy kept the untrained firefighters from entering the water even as Zack, 52, spent an hour in the bay before he wound up floating face down.


Scene of Zack's drowning off Alameda, Calif. (ABC News)

An Alameda police spokesman said officers stayed out of the water because Zack was suicidal and posed a possible threat.

"We did not know whether he was violent, whether drugs were involved," said police Lt. Sean Lynch. "It's not a situation of a typical rescue."

Eyewitness Sharon Brunetti told the San Jose Mercury News that she couldn't believe the first responders at the beach stood and watched the man drown.

"It's like you are living in a different country that does not care about its citizens," she told the newspaper.

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