Family mourns death of Knoxville woman who drowned while on vacation

Knoxville, Tenn. (WATE) – A family and loved ones in Knoxville are heartbroken after the loss of a beloved woman.

Toni Watts, 67, drowned on Tuesday while on vacation in Oak Island, North Carolina

“Even though I spoke to her every day, I still didn’t know what she was doing,” said Joy Chadwick, Toni’s daughter.

Watts’ family remains strong while dealing with the deaths of wife, mother and grandmother.

“She died in that water,” Chadwick said. “And I know when God calls you home, it’s time to go.”

From serving in her church to tutoring children in need, Toni will always be remembered for her big heart.

“Dedicated to the Lord,” said North Knoxville Baptist pastor Joe Emmert. “She was someone who faithfully served this church. It was her, as a pastor, you have people coming, we say ‘Sit down and get a dip.’ She wasn’t like that. It was someone who came and said ‘what can I do?’ »

“They’ve done a major renovation here in the church and all the stories I’ve heard lately have been an eye opener to some degree. I could totally see it. She’s pulling the rug out,” said Chadwick.

Toni retired a few years ago as a healthcare provider and has always gone the extra mile. She even cared for a close friend in her own home before the friend passed away.

Chadwick said: “It wasn’t typical for her to come in and have her task sheet, if you will, from the company. “That’s what you need to accomplish on your shift today.” It was if they needed meals prepared for the next day, however long she would make it. She would do their laundry, just all that.

Toni passed away on Tuesday evening. The Oak Island Water Rescue Team in North Carolina reports that they were the third person in their area to drown in the past month due to rip currents. Toni’s husband spotted her first flutter face down in the ocean.

“Dad called this afternoon and I answered,” Chadwick said. “Dad doesn’t usually call. We talk all the time, but I thought it was weird that he called. Honestly, I thought mom had his phone for some reason, but he said, “I feel like I have some bad news for you.” And I said what’s going on. And he said, “I think mama might’ve drowned.”

Beachgoers were able to pull Toni out of the water. A doctor and nurse who were at the beach performed CPR on Toni before first responders arrived, but their efforts were unsuccessful.

As Toni’s family mourns their loss, they question the function of the beach warning flag system.

Chadwick said: “Now that I know it exists, it’s not our experience with what we saw at the beach. And we went to several access areas during our stay.

“It was a series of choices and unfortunate circumstances and we think the lack of information just about the warning system they put in place there contributed to that,” Emmert said.

The Water Rescue Team Leader reports that there are warning flags outside their station in Oak Island where there is a live camera and people can access it online, but there is no there are no flags at the beach access points.

“Last year we put signs on each of the hotspots that have a QR code that you scan with your phone and it will tell you the most recent rip current at that time,” said the Chef Pete Grenzke. “The National Weather Service updates this about every 15 to 20 minutes.”

The chief added that miscommunication of the warning flag system is a problem all over the world and that rip currents were moderate at the time of Toni’s death.

Toni’s daughter, Joy, says she thinks if her mother knew more about the alerts, her death could have been prevented.

Toni and her family were staying in a house owned by Pastor Emmert’s family. He says it’s hard to fight feelings of guilt.

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