Eric Layton with Chris and Malik

Eric Layton, middle, is thanked for his help in rescuing Chris and Malik from a riptide.

While on vacation in Dauphin Island, Alabama, Eric Layton, the son of Lamar County Commissioner Lonnie Layton, helped save the life of a swimmer who was caught in a riptide.

“We were on vacation, and it was getting late. It was getting dark and we heard some kids playing out in the water. We didn’t think anything about it because they were playing and splashing around,” Layton said.

He was relaxing on his front porch when Chris and Malik, local swimmers, got caught in a riptide. According to the Dauphin Island Facebook page, the area was under a high alert for riptides at the time.

“We noticed they were pretty far out, probably 150 or so yards out, and then their screams got more like screams instead of playing. It looked like they were waving their arms for help other than just playing around,” Layton said.

He and Kendra Yaross, a family friend and registered nurse who accompanied him on vacation, went down to the beach to take a look.

“There was another guy who was standing outside and I asked him ‘are they playing around, do they need help, what’s going on?’ and he goes, ‘man, they need some help.’” Layton said. “I looked around and there was nobody. There’s people out watching it, but nobody was going in. Everybody was just standing there. I looked around and I kind of expected somebody else to help. They had called 911 already, so we were kind of waiting just a second to see if anyone was going to go. Then, I started noticing the struggle was getting really bad, so I grabbed a Boogie Board I saw on the beach and I just went out into the water.

“I couldn’t just sit there and watch somebody drown. It’s just not right.”

It’s storm season in the south, which leads to choppy waves and makes swimming difficult. Layton said the water was rough, and when he was halfway to the swimmers, he was scared because he couldn’t touch the seafloor.

“I turned around and looked back up where our house was and it was really far away. I couldn’t tell exactly, but people were screaming and hollering, but I couldn’t understand what they were saying,” he said.

One of the struggling swimmers, Chris, was barely coherent when Layton reached him.

“I went out a little further, and as soon as I got to him, he was talking, but he wasn’t making a lot of sense. His eyes were kind of glassy and kind of rolling back a little bit. He was talking a little bit, and he could understand me. He put his arm around me and I put him between me and the boogie board, and we started kicking sideways. You know what everybody says, ‘swim sideways to get out of a riptide.’ The water rolled us over a couple of times. He held onto me and I held on to the board.

“Luckily, after about 10 or 15 minutes, we finally got back up where I could touch the ground and I felt a lot better because I could carry him the rest of the way back up. He was on the board and I was kind of dragging/carrying him,” Layton said.

The lifesaving adventure was made all the more difficult because Layton had undergone open heart surgery in December. His upper body strength has not yet fully returned, so by the time he got Chris to shore and handed him off to Yaross, Layton was exhausted.

“She really told us what to do. We got him over on his side and he threw up water. A few minutes later, although it seemed like forever, the ambulance showed up and took him to the hospital,” Layton said.

The man who met Layton on the beach was able to save Chris’ best friend, Malik.

“The other guy, who was a couple of houses down, got the best friend. He (the best friend) actually started to come back up towards the shore. I think maybe he got out of the riptide. The other guy rescued him and got him back up to shore. He didn’t take in as much water, so they (the paramedics) just checked him out right there on the beach and just let him go,” Layton said.

After both boys recovered, they returned to Layton’s vacation home to thank him for saving them.

“I’m glad to be a part of helping him. It wasn’t anything special. I think I did what other people should do and would do if they were in my situation. I just happened to be in the right place at the right time for him. I’m glad that he’s good,” Layton said.

This rescue occurred shortly before Layton got a phone call informing him of his mother’s passing.

“It’s been a rough week. We buried my grandfather Friday, and then shortly after this I got the phone call that my mom passed away while we were down there,” Layton said.

Jennifer Bussey is the assistant managing editor of The Paris News. She can be contacted at jennifer.bussey@theparisnews.com or 903-785-8744.

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