Police and paramedics were unable to revive a man who fell into the pond in front of the Key West police station early Saturday morning.
James Edward Hardin V of 2663 N. Roosevelt Blvd., was pronounced dead at 3:35 a.m. at Lower Keys Medical Center. He was 24.
Hardin was a native of Visalia, Calif., and a computer support specialist who worked as director of operations at One Call Construction, 1901 Flagler Ave., for the last year and half. He also ran his own computer support company called J. Tech Company Service, said his girlfriend and co-worker, One Call Construction office manager Priscilla Ceja.
Prior to working at One Call Construction, Hardin was a longtime manager at McDonald's.
"He was a very sharp, and very careful person who basically raised three of his siblings on a McDonald's paycheck," Ceja said. "He always put others before himself."
Five Sixes Taxi driver Ernie Edge was dispatched to Bayview Park to pick up Hardin just before 3 a.m., but didn't see anyone on Jose Marti Drive at first, he said. Edge honked his horn and reported seeing Hardin walking toward his cab from Bayview Park near the pavilion.
Edge described Hardin as "very intoxicated" and stumbling when he walked to the door, but at some point he walked closer to the pond and away from the door to light a cigarette, reports state.
That's when the driver said Hardin fell backward into the water.
"He was trying to light a cigarette and was kind of shuffling backward and his heels must have hit the seawall or the ledge and he fell," Edge told The Citizen Monday. "I immediately jumped out of the cab and ran over to see if he was O.K."
The driver saw that Hardin's head was above the water, and Hardin told Edge he was "O.K.," Edge said.
"He was closer to where the wall and mangroves are and he was low enough that either he could stand up or maybe he was holding on to a mangrove, but he did talk and say he was O.K.," Edge said. "My immediate thought then was to go get help."
Edge said he drove as fast as he could to the nearby police station where dispatchers told him officers were en route and to go back to make sure Hardin was still above water, Edge said.
"I drove as fast as I could back there and I didn't see him, so I starting yelling for him," Edge said. "I don't know his name, so I was yelling, 'Hey! Where are you? Are you O.K.? And at that point, I thought he either climbed out or was walking out back in the mangroves."
Edge estimated that less than five minutes transpired from the time it took him to go to the police station and return to the scene, and that the first police car arrived about a minute after he alerted police dispatchers.
Responding officers began searching the pond with flashlights when they spotted the bottoms of Hardin's shoes about a foot below the water's surface about three to five feet from the pond's south corner.
Officer Karl Malsheimer jumped in the water and pulled Hardin out as officers Paul Fraga and Tamara Wood assisted him. Officer Darnell Sealey noted in his report that Hardin's skin was pale and cool.
Malsheimer described the depth of the water as reaching his chest, but reports don't indicate Malsheimer's height.
"A brown, muddy liquid began pouring out of Hardin's mouth," Malsheimer wrote. "Hardin was not moving or breathing."
Officers could not find a pulse and began CPR. They reported that water and foam came out of Hardin's mouth as they began chest compressions, reports state.
The officers who responded work the night shift and were not available for comment, said police spokeswoman Alyson Crean.
Hardin was born in California, but moved often in his youth, Ceja said. He went to high school in Michigan.
He began working for McDonald's as a teenager, and worked his way into upper management as McDonald's representative for the Southeast regional training team in 2006, Ceja said.
He also worked at the McDonald's on North Roosevelt Boulevard before starting his own computer business and working for One Call Construction, Ceja said.
"A lot of businesses who needed computer work would know him," Ceja said. "He was brilliant with computer language. He knew about POS systems like few do down here. He wrote the software for the information management system we use at One Call for all our appointments, invoices, customer information. All that."
"He loved the laid-back, small-town community of Key West. He just fell in love with the small community feel," she said.
Funeral arrangements are still pending, Ceja said. Friends and family have started a "Celebrating the life of James Hardin V" page on Facebook in an effort to cover funeral costs.