"We thought we hit the jackpot." That's how one member of Stephone Ritchie Sr.'s family felt as they made the drive from the Orlando area to Cocoa Beach during their Florida vacation last week. But, as WDRB notes of that Oct. 24 daytrip, their fun was short-lived. Barely 15 minutes after arriving at their destination beach, the 38-year-old father of six from Pewee Valley, Ky., noticed his three sons far out in the water, and he was worried they were in trouble, the Louisville Courier-Journal reports. It turns out they were, as a rip current had swept them away from the shore, and Ritchie headed out there to shepherd them back in. "I ... see Dad getting closer, but then he stopped moving for a bit, so I asked him if he needed help," one of his sons, 19-year-old Kaylib, tells WDRB. "He said, 'Yes,' in a concerned way."
Ritchie was able to get the boys safely back, but he wasn't able to get out himself. "The waves kept coming and jumping over his head," a cousin tells the Courier-Journal. Family members and bystanders managed to pull Ritchie out of the water and tried to resuscitate him; he had a pulse when paramedics arrived, but the handyman described in his obituary as an "extraordinary comedian" and devout Christian soon succumbed to his injuries. The beach didn't have a lifeguard, per family members and another witness. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration warns others who get caught in a rip current to stay calm, swim with the current parallel to the shore (not against it toward the shore), and try not to tire yourself out; float or tread water for a break if you have to. "You lay your life down for your kids. You know, that's what he did," Ritchie's own father tells WDRB. (Read more death stories.)