Stoneybrook golf community
ESTERO — A morning scuba dive to check for erosion in a large pond in the Stoneybrook Golf Club gated community in Estero turned deadly Thursday for a Bonita Springs surveyor.
Hugo Amaliel Soto Catalan, 23, of the 23000 block of Eldorado Boulevard, has been identified as the victim.
Soto Catalan died in the water while diving with scuba gear. His body was located about three hours after he went under water shortly after signaling that he was in distress.
Lee County Sheriff’s Sgt. Stephanie Eller said the circumstances of his death will be forthcoming as the investigation continues.
The man was not wearing his air tank when found, said Susan Lindenmuth, a spokeswoman for Estero Fire Rescue. She did not know if he was wearing his dive belt when he was found. A dive belt helps a person sink when diving. Estero firefighters found the air tank prior to the man’s body being found.
“At this point there is no indication of any trauma to the man’s body,” Lindenmuth said.
As two members of the Lee Sheriff’s Office dive team pulled the man’s body to shore about 10:25 a.m. what is believed to be two water moccasins were following them. A deputy shot one with a shotgun and another deputy shot the second one with an AR-15 rifle, Eller said. Deputies were watching for alligators when they shot the venomous snakes, killing them.
Some people who live in the area raised concerns that maybe an alligator had attacked the man. Lindenmuth said she knows the community is proactive in having trappers come into the area to remove any nuisance alligators.
Only four alligators longer than 4-feet-long were removed from the community in 2010, the latest date statistics are available, said Gary Morse, a Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission spokesman. FWC was not called to the scene.
Early reports that indicated the two men conducting the erosion survey were county employees proved incorrect.
A truck with Erosion Barrier Installations was at the scene near Windham Run and Stoneybrook Golf Drive, where the pond is near, however it was not immediately clear whether the divers were employed by the company. No one from the company returned calls seeking comment.
Officials were called at 7:28 a.m. by a witness who saw what was happening in the pond. One man had given a distress signal and the other went into the water to help him. The man in distress went under water and did not resurface, Lindenmuth said.
“He was obviously distraught,” Lindenmuth said of the survivor.
Estero Fire Rescue arrived first on scene and launched a boat, followed by Iona-McGregor Fire District and its divers. After the man could not be located, the Sheriff’s Office took over and classified the search as a recovery mission.
Some areas of the pond have 12- to 15-feet drop-offs, Lindenmuth said, adding the water clarity is typical of ponds in the area.
The state medical examiner arrived on scene and will make a determination as to the cause of death.
People who live in the normally quiet community heard sirens just before 7:30 a.m.
One couple, Millie and Paul Stirba, who are part-time residents, were to have returned Wednesday to Oakland, N.J., but decided to stay an extra day.
Little did they know what they would witness out their back door.
“We heard a bunch of sirens,” Millie Stirba said. “Paul looked out and said there are nine cop cars and a fire engine. Then we saw the boat.”
Rescuers walked the shoreline and her husband asked them what happened.
“They said they were looking for a body,” she said. “We saw two divers getting ready to go in.”
When the news came that the diver’s body was found, Millie Stirba was visibly shaken.
E-mail Valli Finney at email@example.com