EDITOR’S NOTE: A version of the story appeared in The Tampa Tribune.
WEEKI WACHEE – From 1999 to 2003 it was illegal to scuba dive in Eagle Nest Sink because of a ban placed on it by the property’s former owner.
Chester Spivey Jr. on Friday said he wants the underground cave system shut down again after his son and grandson died in a diving accident there on Christmas Day.
“I wish they would close it,” Spivey said. “I wouldn’t want to see anyone else die. It’s just too dangerous.”
Since 1981, at least eight divers have died in Eagle Nest Sink, top, a vast underwater cave system in western Hernando County. Deputies say the bodies of Darrin Spivey, left, and his son, Dillon Sanchez, were recovered Wednesday night in the Chassahowitzka Wildlife Refuge near Eagle Nest Sink. FACEBOOK
It doesn’t appear Spivey will get his wish.
“There are no plans to close it at this time,” said Gary Morse of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, which manages the state-owned land. “That discussion has taken place over a period of years, and the decision was made to leave the area open to those who choose to use it but with the caution that only certified, experienced divers should attempt to enter the cave system.”
On Wednesday, Darrin Spivey, 35, and his son, Dillon Sanchez, 15, died while trying to make their way up from Eagle Nest Sink, a vast underwater cave system that has killed at least six other divers since 1981.
In 1999, the Southwest Florida Water Management District banned diving at Eagle Nest when it bought the land, located in northwestern Hernando County. It was cave divers, Morse said, who lobbied to reopen Eagle Nest. The state lifted the ban in July 2003 when a management plan for the site was developed.
On Friday, bereaved family members were awaiting details from Hernando County sheriff’s deputies and the local medical examiner about how Darrin Spivey and Sanchez died.
Chester Spivey said there likely will be a memorial for his son and grandson. “There definitely should be,” he said. “I’m sure there will be something, but there are no details yet. We’re just kind of waiting to hear.”
Chester Spivey said he understands his son had no insurance to pay for burial, and a fund might be established to raise money for that purpose, he said.
Sheriff’s office spokeswoman Denise Moloney said there was no new information as of Friday afternoon. The medical examiner was continuing the investigation and might have something to release next week, Moloney said.
Betty Spivey, Darrin’s grandmother, said Friday afternoon she is in “total shock” after the family tragedy. “It could all have been avoided.”
“He loved his kids,” she said of Darrin Spivey. “He loved his children very much. He had a laugh about him that stood out from everybody else.”
The bodies were recovered by a volunteer cave-diving team at about 8:30 p.m. Wednesday. Darrin Spivey was found at 127 feet; Sanchez at 67 feet. Darrin Spivey was certified to dive but not to dive in caves, according to law enforcement officials and family members. Sanchez was not a certified diver, Moloney said.
Darrin Spivey had two other children: Alexis, 16 and Derek, 8.
Eagle Nest is within the Chassahowitzka Wildlife Management Area and is managed by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. The property now is owned by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Division of State Lands.
Reporter Wendy Joan Biddlecombe contributed to this report.