U.S. High School Teacher Dies in Limón Surf

June 20, 2008

A 44-year-old high school teacher from the U.S. state of Indiana died while trying to rescue a student in the ocean in the Caribbean province of Limón, police reported.

Steve Hershberger, language arts department chairman at FairfieldHigh School in rural Goshen, Indiana, and the school valedictorian were trying to reach a student who had been dragged out to sea by a riptide on the public beach, according to Lillian Acuña of the Limon Police Department.

The incident occurred across the street from Hotel Colon Caribe in Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, where the group was staying, Acuña said.

All three ended up stranded, and a kayak was sent out to rescue them one by one.

Despite earlier information, it is unclear whether Hershberger, the second pulled out of the water, was dead when he reached the shore, Fairfield High Principal Phil Hoskins said the teacher may have temporarily regained consciousness.

“They tried to give him CPR, and nothing happened,” Carlos Ceciliano, manager at Hotel Colon Caribe, said. “We called 911, the ambulance came … This is something that never happened before. Someone drowned. I wish we could have done more.”

The death was originally reported as a drowning, but there is some question pending an autopsy, Hoskins said, who noted paramedics were speculating he could have suffered a broken neck.

The two teens were hospitalized and are reportedly in good condition.

The hotel routinely warns guests to be careful in the surf, Ceciliano said. “The Caribbean side is very dangerous.”

Hershberger was one of five adults chaperoning a group of 32 students on a Spanish immersion trip to Costa Rica. The group had just finished lunch when the incident occurred, according to Acuña.

Hershberger taught at Fairfield, which is attended by 600 students, for 14 years. In addition to his language teaching, he directed plays and helped coach the tennis team, according to the school’s Web site.

“He was a very popular teacher,” Hoskins said. “He was well-liked by both peers and students.”

 

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