Tragic But Avoidable Christmas Deaths Don't Result in New Safety Regulations

When people choose to ignore warnings, it's not the state's responsibility


Adding "No, really!" probably wouldn't have mattered.

On Christmas Day, a father-and-son team drowned in an underwater cave in Florida. Darrin Spivey, 35, and Dillon Sanchez, 15, decided to try out their Christmas presents, diving equipment, in a dangerous underwater cave that had previous claimed six other lives. The two of them died as well, their bodies recovered later that evening.

A terrible tragedy, but also notable is the state of Florida's response. They're not going to change anything. From the Tampa Bay Times:

The treacherous, isolated cave system where a Brooksville man and his teenage son drowned Wednesday claimed at least six other lives since 1981. But Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officials said they have no plans to restrict access to the Eagle Nest Sink.

A local diver, Larry Green, pushed for the cave to be opened for access but wanted it regulated:

Yet while Green wanted the caves to be accessible, he and other members of the diving community also recommended the Wildlife Commission regulate the people who dive there. He pointed to nearby Sand Hill Scout Reservation, a privately-owned Hernando County location that requires two separate permits and 100 hours of cave diving experience before allowing divers access to its underwater system.

When the commission took over, it installed large signs warning of the danger. They also built a pier to make it easier to access.

"There's very little to no supervision over it to check that people with certification came out there," Green said.

Spivey was apparently a certified diver but not a certified cave diver. Sanchez was not a certified diver of any kind. A couple of things to note:

  • There is a huge warning sign about the dangers of exploring the cave. As sad as it was for these two to have died in this way, they chose to ignore the sign.
  • The privately owned diving area has a vested interest in making sure safety is a top priority.

Every so often there's a death in a state or national park and inevitably somebody asks, "Can't something be done?" But when people choose to ignore the efforts to inform them of significant risks, then they take on the responsibility for what happens afterward.