Body of missing Bartow teen recovered in Peace River

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The body of a teen who was swept away by the current on the Peace River Saturday morning while trying to save his 11-year-old sister has been recovered.

  • Body of Austin Welch, 18, recovered Sunday
  • Welch fishing with sister, mother at Peace River Canoe Launch
  • Sister, Crystal Droze, fell from the dock into the water
  • Welch, mom, both jumped into water to save her

Barbara Engle, 35, was out at the Peace River Canoe Launch in Bartow fishing with her two children, Austin Welch, 18, and Crystal Droze, 11, Saturday morning, officials said. At some point in the morning, Crystal lost her footing on the dock and fell into the water.

Both Austin and Engle jumped into the water to help Crystal. Engle and Crystal were able to grab onto each other, but Austin was swept away by the fast-moving current.

"He’s always been a protector and he’s just so selfless," his mother Engle said. "The most amazing kid you could ever know."

Mother and daughter were able to pull themselves to shore, run out to nearby State Road 60 and flag down a passerby for help.

Polk deputies arrived on scene at approximately 11:30 a.m. Polk Fire EMS and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation personnel were also deployed to the scene to assist in the search.  

The search for Austin continued Sunday morning. FWC used side-scanning sonar from their boats, which detected the presence of something near where Austin was last seen going underwater (in the same area where his mother and sister were able to grab some grass/brush and pull themselves to shore, a couple hundred yards from the dock where they all went in.)

The sheriff’s office dive team entered the water where the image was seen on the sonar, and recovered Austin’s body.

"Austin lost his life saving the life of his 11-year-old sister. We had hoped and prayed that we would find him safe on the shore somewhere. We searched for him for 24 hours, as if he were one of our own family members. Please keep his family in your prayers," Sheriff Grady Judd said in a statement.

"(Crystal) is still in shock," Engle said. "She’s upset. She’s blaming herself. We keep telling her it’s not her fault," Engle said.

An autopsy will be conducted to determine exact cause of death, however, this appears to be an accidental drowning, deputies said.  

Devastated loved ones are now remembering Austin for his kind heart.

"He’s always been a great person always helping everybody," friend Tequila Chance said.

Friends and family also said they will never forget the sacrifice he made to save his family.

"Know that he’s a hero," said Engle. "He did the one thing that he would do without hesitation. Everybody loves him. He loves everybody."

Bay News 9 – news

September 4, 2016 |

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