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st petersburg times Trip on red raft seemed like a fun idea
By JENNIFER LIBERTO, St Petersburg Times
06/03/2003



A float, two snakes and a cell phone with less than one minute left: Sounds dramatic, and it was for two young women.

WEEKI WACHEE -- At first, Krista Neogra chuckled at the high-tech messages in the bottle, which read like some kind of adventure epic.

"I'm stuck with Jen on the Weeki Wachee River," came across Neogra's text messager at 5:56 p.m. on Tuesday.

"We're in a small raft drifting toward the Gulf. Can't stop. Any ideas?" appeared five minutes later.

But it wasn't until she read "Current too strong we need help," at 6:09 p.m. that Neogra, 22, understood that her friend's pages were no fiction.

Weekend rains, a strong current and a few slithery creatures turned an intended short jaunt down the Weeki Wachee River into a three-hour ordeal for two young women who had decided to combat a muggy Tuesday afternoon with a trip on a $20 inflatable red raft.

Lacking life jackets and oars, Kelly Gane, 19, of Weeki Wachee and Jenny Miller, 18, of Hudson set off on the Weeki Wachee River near County Road 550 about 3 p.m. They picked up a stick in the preserve to steer the raft.

Gane and Miller said they were floating fine for about an hour until they passed the beach where they had intended to stop.

Then, they saw two brownish-black snakes.

"I wasn't getting out of the raft after I saw the snakes," said Miller, who has swum and floated in the Weeki Wachee many times.

After several failed attempts to stop the raft, they turned to Gane's prepaid cellular phone, which had less than a minute left. To conserve time, they sent eight text messages to Gane's best friend, Krista Neogra, including: "We're docked, not reaching for sides for snakes."

About 6:10 p.m., Neogra called the Hernando County Sheriff's Office, which sent a marine unit officer. By the time he reached the water, the women already had been helped, spokesman Lt. Joe Paez said.

Two men in a small fishing boat who had passed the women while motoring downriver earlier in the afternoon caught up with the raft on their return upriver just north of Roger's Park.

The girls climbed aboard, were motored upriver and were later driven to their cars. Gane and Miller didn't know the men's names but were grateful.

Gane acknowledged that she could have called 911 on her cell phone without a charge, but she didn't think their situation merited an emergency call.

"We didn't want to worry anyone, but they already were worried," Gane said Wednesday.

The Sheriff's Office receives frequent calls about stranded boaters in the gulf, but it doesn't often get calls for help on the Weeki Wachee because the river is not too deep and many residents live along the river, Paez said.

But Gane and Miller said they didn't feel like they could stop at any of the docks, because most bore "No Trespassing" signs. And, there was the matter of the snakes.

"I wasn't scared. I just didn't want to end up in the gulf on a raft," Miller said. "But I didn't like the idea of those snakes coming around. That was the creepy part."

Neogra shook her head and lectured her friends, she said.

"I told them, next time they do this adventure they need a kayak or a canoe or something that doesn't belong in a swimming pool."

Read the full article with pictures at the St Petersburg Times




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