Woman calls Greenville drowning victim a hero for trying to save two women

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ATLANTIC BEACH, NC (WITN) - One of the four drowning victims from the rip currents along the coast was a 21-year-old man from Greenville who went back into the ocean to save the people he considered family.

A woman who says Justin Eakes was like a son to her, now considers him a hero.

"Justin Eakes was a very wonderful young man," Shirley Kelly Williams says.

Williams says Eakes was like a son to her and after his mother died this year, he started referring to Williams as "Ma Kelly".

"The easy going, big-hearted, lovingest young man," she describes.

It's that love, she says, that put Eakes in harms way on Sunday to save her daughter and her son's girlfriend.

"They had gone out into the water and they were over a little bit over waist deep in, there was a sandbar," she recalls.

All five at one time had been on that sandbar in the choppy water off Atlantic Beach.

Her son, her daughter's boyfriend, Channing, and Eakes were near the shore when the girls fell in.

Channing went back to grab them, then Eakes went in to help Channing, but she says Eakes got swept under.

When they found him, she says he had been in the water for about 50 minutes.

Monday morning, Eakes' family was told he was brain dead.

"They realized it would just be best to let him go," Williams says.

She says for his sacrifice he should be considered a hero. "This just proved to me there are still good people, selfless people out there and Justin was one of those people."

After two teens died in rip currents along Emerald Isle, Williams says she spoke to Eakes about what to do if he's every caught in a rip current and she says he was aware of the dangers and a reason they got out of the water.

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Authorities say a Greenville man has died a day after being caught up in a rip current.

Justin Eakes, 21, passed away this morning at Vidant Medical Center, according to a hospital spokeswoman.

Eakes was at the beach with several friends and they were all on a sandbar. Shirley Williams says the group was swimming back to the shore when a wave pulled her daughter and another woman off the sandbar.

Williams says Eakes was basically on shore, but turned around to help rescue the two. She says Eakes was pulled under for what she believes was about 50 minutes.

Eakes was the second man to drown at Atlantic Beach this weekend. 56-year-old Scott Whitford, of New Bern, drowned on Saturday while trying to rescue two girls in an area that doesn't have lifeguards.

Whitford worked as a carpenter for CarolinaEast Medical Center. "Scott displayed a servant's heart, both professionally and personally," said a hospital spokeswoman. "The CarolinaEast family is saddened by this loss and shares our deepest sympathy with his family, loved ones and friends."

Red flags are back out along many beaches as there is once again a high threat of rip currents again today.

Beaches from Surf City to Duck are under the high risk for the dangerous rips, according to the National Weather Service.

Red flags are flying at Atlantic Beach and Emerald Isle.

At Emerald Isle, the fire department says in the past 10 days there have been a total of 50 different rescues involving 80 people.

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A 21-year-old man is in critical condition after being caught in a rip current off Atlantic Beach.

Atlantic Beach Fire Chief Adam Snyder tells WITN's Kate Capodanno that five people from Greenville were swimming on the west end of Atlantic Beach, near the Doubletree Hotel around 11am Sunday morning when first responders were called to help them.

When fire rescue personnel arrived, all 5 people were out of the water in the sand.

Emergency crews performed CPR on the 21-year-old victim before transporting him to Carteret General Hospital. He has since been airlifted to Vidant Medical Center in Greenville in critical condition.

A 19-year-old girl was also taken to the hospital after inhaling water, but she is expected to be okay.

This is the second incident of people being caught in rip currents at Atlantic Beach this weekend.

"Two drownings in one weekend is uncommon in this area," said Atlantic Beach Fire Cpt. Kevin White. "Within 30 minutes, a rip current can move from one spot to another spot just depending on the tides."

A 56-year-old man died Saturday after entering the water to help two teenage girls who had gotten caught in a rip tide and were screaming in the water.

A 6-year lifeguarding veteran, Darby Sherwood says this season's rip currents are already the worst she's ever seen.

"I really think that the reason it is so bad this year is solely because of the beach nourishment and dredging that is going on," Sherwood said.

Regardless, Sherwood says she and her fellow lifeguards are ready for any calls for assistance.

"We're just more on our toes than usual because of how it has been so far... it's just kind of a glance at how it is going to be... but we are ready for it," she said.

Lifeguards recommend swimming at Circle Beach where lifeguards are stationed; both drownings this weekend have occurred on unguarded sections of Atlantic Beach.

If you are swimming and find yourself caught in a rip current, lifeguards say to not fight the current but swim parallel to shore until you are free of it.