The family of an Osceola County woman are asking for authorities to be held accountable for the drowning death of their family member.
The incident occurred at the Camden Town Square apartments during Labor Day weekend last year.
Authorities say they received several calls around 8:30 p.m. about a woman later identified as Meryl Ann Smith, swimming and singing inside of the retention pond at the apartment complex.
Dispatchers reportedly told authorities that the woman was possibly intoxicated or mentally ill.
When authorities arrived, they used a PA system inside of one of their vehicles to call out to her and ask her if she needed help.
“This is the Osceola County Sheriff’s Office speaking to you, ma’am, in the water,” the deputy is heard saying on dash camera video. “Do you need help? Swim back to the shore, please, let us know if you need help.”
When Smith continue to swim around the pond and ignore police inquiries, authorities reportedly began threatening that if Smith did not swim back to shore, they would arrest her.
“Ma’am, this is the Osceola County Sheriff’s Office, we see that you’re moving around, you need to come back to shore, if you do not come back to shore now, you will be arrested.”
After a 3-hour ordeal, Smith attempted to swim back to shore in the dark but disappeared in the water.
An airboat was eventually brought to the scene, however, Smith had allegedly been missing for an hour.
Smith’s family claims that authorities never tried to enter the water but instead stood yards away threatening her:
“It should have been obvious, no matter who it was, that there was a person who is in danger,” Meryl Ann’s sister, Molly Smith, said. “And in those situations, by threatening with legal recourse, if the individual doesn’t swim back to shore, that’s putting them at risk.”
Family members also claimed that authorities could have done more to save her:
“Quite frankly, I feel like they were very negligent, and they should have done more. And had they done that, my sister would probably still be here today,” Molly Smith said.
The Sheriff’s office has since released a statement regarding Smith’s death:
“Deputies responded to a call regarding an intoxicated person in a pond. 911 callers had reported a woman singing and splashing in the middle of the lake. Callers specifically stated she did not appear to be drowning. Once on scene, deputies were able to see Ms. Smith pull her entire body out of the water and place herself onto the fountain located in the middle of the pond. Knowing she had already been in the pond for at least 15 minutes and watching her physically position herself out of the water and onto the fountain, it did not appear she was at risk for drowning. Deputies repeatedly gave Ms. Smith verbal commands to come to shore. Unfortunately, Ms. Smith ignored these commands. When deputies lost sight of her, they assumed she was intentionally trying to hide from them to avoid having to come to shore. Deputies then utilized their binoculars, flashlights, and the spotlight from their marked patrol cars to search for her for an additional 34 minutes. They also contacted residents to ascertain if anyone saw her exit the pond. When her whereabouts were still unknown, an airboat and helicopter was requested to come to the scene. Her drowning is the worst type of tragedy and our hearts go out to the family and friends of Ms. Smith.”