FREEPORT — Grey skies set a solemn backdrop as county employees hoisted a new sign warning visitors to San Luis Pass of the dangerous currents that lurk beneath the surface.
“If you look out here toward the bay, the water looks calm,” Brazoria County Sheriff’s Lt. Varon Snelgrove said. “It’s got a very nice, clean beach and the fishermen are drawn here because the fish are outstanding in this area. But it’s the currents below the surface that get people in trouble. I can’t stress how strong the currents here are.”
Brazoria County officials posted two new signs warning of 10 deaths that have taken place since 2013 in the narrow straight between Brazoria County and Galveston Island. One sign was posted at the San Luis Pass County Park entrance and another under the bridge Thursday afternoon.
“It’s not that we’re trying to shock or scare the public; we just want them to be educated of the dangers that this area actually poses — that 10 people have actually lost their lives,” Snelgrove said.
One of those deaths happened less than a week earlier when Jacob Szydlowski, 19, of Alvin went missing June 23 while wade fishing under the San Luis Pass bridge. A passing boater found Szydlowski’s body floating in the area the next day.
Brazoria County Commissioner Dude Payne estimates the San Luis Pass area has claimed dozens of lives in his 61 years.
“Over my lifetime, I would estimate there’s been at least 50 drownings,” Payne said. “Most of the people that have drowned, especially in the last few years, are not southern Brazoria County residents. They won’t come out here and fish because they know of the dangers.”
Two men were wading in the waters Thursday afternoon as county employees posted the new signage.
“Another 4 feet, there’s a 9 foot drop-off,” Gulf Coast Rescue Squad member Chuck Courson said of how close those anglers were to a hidden, potentially deadly, danger.
The strong currents constantly affect the sandbars, Snelgrove said.
“They change almost on a daily basis because of these extreme tidal changes; it’s constantly moving the sand,” he said. “Where you may be standing in knee-deep water yesterday, it might be over your head today.”
For those who don’t heed the new warning signs to avoid wading into the pass, Courson advises people to wear a life-jacket.
“That young man, I’m pretty confident, he would’ve been able to get back to shore eventually, safely if he had a life jacket on,” Courson said of Szydlowski’s death.
Officials hurried to update warning signs to alert residents of the treacherous waters, knowing a big holiday weekend followed the most recent casualty of the pass.
“It did prompt it,” Snelgrove said. “It’s something that we’ve actually been working on for awhile trying to make people aware of this. We just wanted to expedite it because we do have the upcoming holiday weekend. July Fourth is always a big beach weekend for people coming here from out of town and for our locals. We just want to make people aware before we have another tragedy.”
Officials also urge residents to watch for coastal weather alerts before heading out to the beach.
“When they hear the National Weather Service issue a rip current warning for our beaches, pay attention to those,” Snelgrove said. “They’re there for a reason.”
Aside from San Luis Pass, officials say the mouth of the Brazos River is another notorious spot.
“Those are the two areas along our reporting area that we find the most treacherous, and it’s because of the unpredictable currents,” Snelgrove said.