DeLand Police Sgt. Tony Tagle received a Medal of Valor and Lifesaving Award July 5 for leaping into action and helping two drowning children.
One weekend in April, Tagle was at the beach in New Smyrna Beach with his family. He was enjoying the sun and fishing with some family members when he heard a child screaming for help in the water below. The tide was low, the rip currents were high, and the child was drowning. People nearby were yelling and trying to offer the child fishing rods to pull himself back onto the rocky beach, Tagle said, but none of it was working.
“Nobody was taking any action, so I thought, ‘Well, I guess I’m going in,’” Tagle told The Beacon. “I handed my rod and hat to my cousin and jumped in.”
What followed, he said, was a harrowing rescue attempt. There wasn’t one drowning child, but two.
When Tagle got his hands on the one drowning child, he quickly realized another child he believed to be the first’s brother had already jumped in to try to help.
“I felt the kid under him yank my leg, so I started taking in water,” he said. “Now I have two kids, and I’m like, ‘Oh gosh, the situation got worse.’”
Tagle continued, “I told them, ‘We’re going to drown if you don’t try.’”
What followed felt like an eternity, Tagle said. In reality, it was probably only a few minutes of struggling to keep the two kids from being swept away. Tagle was able to get one of the children onto the rocks above them, but the current was still pulling the second child into deeper water. Tagle climbed back onto the rocks to take a minute’s rest before jumping back into the water. He was already exhausted.
“I lay there on the rock, I’m tired, and I see the other kid going away, and I’m telling him to float, ‘I’m going to come back for you,’” Tagle said. “I jumped back in, because no matter how I feel, I’m not going to watch this kid drown. All of a sudden, somebody else jumps back in.”
He was not able to identify the other person who leapt into the water, but with that person’s help, both children were pulled from the water, and Tagle was able to rest. The amount of water he had swallowed had taken a toll on him, and the rocks had scratched up his back, he said, but at least the kids were safe.
He was thanked by a few members of the children’s family, but he wasn’t able to stick around. Tagle’s own family wanted to make sure he was safe, too.
“I wasn’t even looking to get anything. I was going to do what I had to do. It was more of an instinct that kicked in,” Tagle said. “I wasn’t going to sit there and watch a child drown. I didn’t think about anything else.”
For his actions, Tagle received a Medal of Valor and a Lifesaving Award. He was recognized by DeLand Mayor Bob Apgar at the DeLand City Commission meeting July 5. Police Chief Jason Umberger presented Tagle with the awards.
“We want to highlight that, because I think it’s important the community knows that we have public servants that are willing to lay down their lives to protect other lives, even when they’re off duty,” Umberger said.
The Medal of Valor is awarded to officers who perform brave or hazardous acts that may endanger themselves. The Lifesaving Award is presented to officers who, while on duty or not, go out of their way to save a life. Around 10 officers currently serving with the DeLand Police Department have received Lifesaving Awards.
This award marks the second time Tagle received a Medal of Valor while serving in the DeLand Police Department. He was previously recognized for intervening during a shootout between DeLand police and a suspect in 2019.
Tagle was also recently recognized by the Mexican Consulate in Orlando for his work with the migrant community in Volusia County.