James DiFrancesco put his new pair of swimming trunks to good use Tuesday evening.
The vacationing Kenmore man said he purchased the swimsuit only minutes before jumping in the water off St. Pete Beach on the west coast of Florida south of St. Petersburg to rescue a distressed swimmer.
“I changed into them right after I bought them in the store,” he said. “I guess I was able to make good use of them.”
DiFrancesco, 29, a driver for Regional International’s commercial truck parts department, was walking along the beach with his fiancée, Lindsay Manning, and young son when the boy said he wanted to go swimming.
DiFrancesco left the pair for about an hour to find a store where he could purchase a swimsuit.
When he returned around 6:50 p.m., Manning was shouting for him to run to them and pointing to the water.
“She was pointing out and I thought she was pointing at something in the ocean like sea life,” he said. “But we could see a person and it looked like he was just laying there. She said she swore she heard him screaming ‘Help.’”
DiFrancesco said he called out to the man but couldn’t hear because of the waves and saw him go under water several times about 100 yards from shore. While Manning called 911, he swam out to the man who had become exhausted swimming against the current trying to return to shore.
“He was just whupped,” DiFrancesco said. “He was completely gassed. He had nothing left in the tank. He was just floating there starting to not be able to hold himself up and he said I got there in the nick of time.”
DiFrancesco said he wrapped an arm around 66-year-old Terry Strecker of Smyrna, Ga., and pulled him to safety.
“I just kind of kicked and paddled backwards,” he said. “About halfway back I could touch the ground and then I just stomped my way in.”
DiFrancesco said he’s not a trained or experienced swimmer but summoned all his strength to bring Strecker in to shore.
“It was tiring, I’ll say that,” he said. “I was gassed by the time I got him in. We had to both sit there for a second. He was really tired. He couldn’t hold himself up. I leaned against him to keep him from falling over until the medics got there.”
The St. Pete Beach Fire Department treated Strecker at the scene and kept him under observation.
The Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office said there were no other people on the isolated stretch of beach and that DiFrancesco’s quick actions likely saved Strecker’s life.
DiFrancesco said he’s glad he returned to the beach when he did so Manning didn’t have to attempt a rescue.
“She was tempted to go out there by herself but she knew she couldn’t because our kid is only 3 years old and he definitely would have followed her out there,” he said. “She was balancing trying to tell him to stay put while trying to make it just a few feet into the water to see if she could talk to the guy.”
Strecker recovered and sent DiFrancesco a text late Tuesday that read, “How can I thank you?”
“I told him I feel like it was something I was supposed to do,” DiFrancesco said. “If you don’t go out and help somebody, it seems like you’re not really a fellow human.”