Canoe tips in lake, man drowns

Published May 24, 2007

LAND O'LAKES - On Wednesday afternoon, two men crammed into a small, shiny canoe and set off to work on West Lake Ellis, a lush lake off School Road in Land O'Lakes. The lake is a secret, tranquil find, rimmed by dark woods and a few homes, just a half-mile or so away from busy U.S. 41. The two men - Moises Gomez, 19, and Juan Gomez-Diaz, 25 - had been hired by a property owner to spray weeds growing on his section of the lake.

The young men shared an apartment in Tampa. Gomez was the father of the 10-month-old child of Gomez-Diaz's sister.

Neither of the men was wearing a life jacket.

Gomez did not know how to swim.

A little after lunchtime, the canoe capsized. Gomez-Diaz told investigators he did not know why. Only that it did and he swam to shore and called for help.

Twenty minutes later, at nearly 1 p.m., Gomez's body was pulled from the water. He was pronounced dead.

This was the 33rd boating fatality in Florida this year - a record number for the state, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. This is the second for the year in Pasco County - though there may be a third.

Michael Curl, a missing boater, might have fallen overboard last week along the Gulf Coast between New Port Richey and Hudson. A body has not been recovered.

Florida law states that there must be life jackets in a boat for all people on board. Children younger than 6 must wear them by law.

But for adults, it's a choice.

It is not known what type of chemical they were using to spray weeds - or if they had a permit to do so, said Gary Morse, spokesman for the wildlife commission.

Capt. Andy Krause, wildlife commission investigations supervisor, said that the Florida Department of Environmental Protection will be notified.

The address given of the property where the men worked is 4723 School Road. The owner of that home - and a black Jeep in the driveway - is Kevin Knowles, a 42-year-old owner of a Land O'Lakes business called the Pros Investment Corp.

There is a gold letter "K" on each of the heavy, black gates opening to his driveway, which is gravel and long. It feels 10 degrees cooler when walking up his driveway, which is dense with cypress trees, the lake shimmering ahead. The house blends into the forest, with docks stretching over the lake.

On Wednesday afternoon, a man answered a knock and spoke through a cracked door. He didn't want to comment on the accident. He was polite and seemed upset.

As of press time, nothing was known about the young man who died in the lake - and why he chose to do that job when he didn't know how to swim.

Erin Sullivan can be reached at esullivan@sptimes.com or 813 909-4609. Times researchers Cathy Wos and Caryn Baird contributed to this report.