A Piney Flats, Tennessee man drowned at a North Carolina beach Monday while attempting to save the lives of his daughters.
Rick Brown, 35, jumped into the water at Shackleford Banks, a barrier island system off the cost of Carteret County, North Carolina, because the girls were in distress, according to Capt. Casey Arthur, with the Atlantic Beach Fire and Police Department.
“The mother and father both went out to rescue the girls,” Arthur said. “The parents got caught in the current near the inlet. The mother and the three children were rescued by bystanders on the shore and good Samaritans on a boat—the father was not able to get out.”
Detective Lt. Michael Panzarella, a homicide investigator with the Cateret County Sheriff’s Department, said there is still a lot of unconfirmed information about the accident.
“We’re still not sure if he was rescuing two or three children,” he said. “From what I’m hearing, there’s a conflict about how many of his daughters actually needed to be rescued.”
He added that there were no signs of foul play in connection with Brown’s death.
“It’s common for all drowning incidents to be investigated by homicide,” Panzarella said. “They were not out there drinking, there was no altercation … it was just a horrific, tragic accident.”
Arthur said that there is a massive tidal flow and current in the area where the family was swimming.
“It’s very, very strong—the family obviously didn’t know that it was a bad area to swim, but they found out very quickly that it was. So when they went out to rescue their three girls they got caught in the current themselves.”
He added that the children and their mother were in the water less than 10 minutes.
“It’s hard to say how long the dad was in the water. It probably seemed like 10 hours to them, but there’s no way for us to know how long the father was in the water,” he said. “The father was picked up a little ways down the beach and when we got there someone was already performing CPR. He was taken to Carteret Health Care, where he was pronounced dead.”
Brown’s FaceBook page said he was the owner at Rick L. Brown, CPA, and the controller at Maymead, a company in Mountain City, Tennessee that specializes in asphalt paving operations.
Tom Purpur, the company’s vice president, said Tuesday that Brown worked for the company for two years, but he declined further comment.
According to the Piney Flats Baptist Church FaceBook page, Brown and his wife, Rachel, have been married for 12 years.
Brown was in the 2009-10 class of LEAD Bristol!, a leadership program of the Bristol Chamber of Commerce.
“The news of the passing of Rick Brown is very sad indeed,” said Paula Hurt, the chamber’s vice president of finance and administration. “He was a wonderful person and a gentleman. As a member of 2009/2010 class of LEAD Bristol!, he stood out as someone willing to do whatever it took to get the job done. Rick had a strong faith, great love of his family and was diligent in everything that he pursued. I know that Rick will be greatly missed by his family, his coworkers, his fellow LEAD Bristol! class and by anyone whose life he touched.”
Adam Vinson, one of Brown’s longtime friends, described him as one of the best people he’s ever known.
“I’ve known Rick since first or second grade.” Vinson said Tuesday. “We grew up in a little town, Baxter, Tennessee, about four hours from Piney Flats. We spent a lot of days and nights together—we were inseparable. I tell people he was my brother, not by blood but by heart. Every time I saw him he was smiling, he never had hard feelings for anyone. Rick Brown was by far one of the best people I ever met in my life. I’m sure many would tell you that.”
Vinson added that his friend was also a man of character.
“No one ever had a better work ethic than Rick,” he said. “He provided for his family and would give you the shirt off his back if you needed it. My friend died the way he lived—saving someone. He is my hero and I’m sure a lot of other family and friends’ hero, too.”