GALVESTON

A Montgomery County man drowned Wednesday evening in the waters off Galveston, the Galveston Island Beach Patrol said.

Thomas Burton, 29, of New Caney, was pronounced dead at a University of Texas Medical Branch hospital Wednesday evening after spending at least 10 minutes under water off the beach near 57th Street, Galveston Island Beach Patrol Chief Peter Davis said.

Burton was standing on a sandbar with another man at about 4:40 p.m. He had been in neck-deep water when a lifeguard noticed he had gone under, Davis said.

A lifeguard at the 59th Street tower saw the two men earlier and, after directing some swimmers away from a rip current to his west, noticed Burton was missing, Davis said.

The second man later told first responders they had been standing on the sandbar and must have stepped off into deeper water, Davis said. The second man was trying to support Burton to keep him from going under but wasn’t able to, Davis said.

The guard found Burton’s body while swimming, pulled it back to shore and began CPR, Davis said.

First responders transported Burton to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead, Davis said.

Burton was probably submerged for a minimum of 10 minutes, Davis said.

Burton was from New Caney, a Montgomery County community about 25 miles north of Houston, Davis said.

BUSY BEACHES

The drowning happened on a weekday that resembled a typical summer weekend. Beach crowds on Galveston Island have been busier than typical May levels, Davis said.

“You’re just seeing a lot of activity,” Davis said.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott ordered beaches fully open on May 1 as part of the state’s first phase of ending some coronavirus distancing rules. When the beaches were opened, the beach patrol wasn’t fully staffed at its typical levels for this time of year, officials said.

Galveston Island Beach Patrol is still looking to hire more lifeguards, but the beach patrol has adequate staffing levels, Davis said.

“The drownings that we’ve been having are not related to lifeguard staffing levels at this point,” Davis said.

After candidates graduate from the lifeguard academy underway, Davis expects to have about 65 lifeguards, with room for 40 or 50 more in a June academy, he said.

Burton’s drowning isn’t the first water-related incident this week. The body of an unidentified man washed up Sunday on the West End near Kahala Drive.

Officials also were searching earlier this week for Danny Wren, 63, who went missing Sunday evening near Middle Deer Island in Galveston Bay. The boater reportedly lost control of his 16-foot skiff while attempting to retrieve his brother, who was wade fishing, according to the U.S. Coast Guard. The Coast Guard suspended the search Wednesday after searching almost 300 square miles for more than 65 hours.

Beach patrol was flying a red flag Wednesday to warn people of dangerous water conditions. The red flag warning was still in effect on Thursday morning.

Keri Heath: 409-683-5241; keri.heath@galvnews.com or on Twitter @HeathKeri.

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