The deputies were responding to a boat in distress in the Destin East Pass as Tropical Storm Barry stirred up local waters.

DESTIN — A face full of glass was not on Robert Wagner’s itinerary when he got out of bed on Friday.

But that’s what happened when the three-year Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office deputy responded to a report of a boat in distress in the Destin East Pass.

“One of our beach guys heard (Destin) Beach Safety talking a vessel in distress in the East Pass,” said Wagner, who is a member of the department’s Marine Unit.

He and Deputy Daryl Culberson dispatched from the Destin Coast Guard station just before 5 p.m. in the department’s Safe Boat, a 25-foot vessel purpose-built to handle rough water. The boat had been previously owned by the Coast Guard.

“It was a mess,” Wagner said of the East Pass. Large waves stirred up by Tropical Storm Barry, now Hurricane Barry, were heading northward through the channel, and an outgoing tide made the water even more treacherous.

As the two fought their way through the turbulent water toward a pontoon boat, which apparently had fouled its prop with the anchor line, Wagner saw the approaching wave.

“We got another big one coming here,” he said, warning Culberson to brace himself. "Big one."

The wave broke over the bow and hit the windshield, knocking it out. Wagner was slammed with broken glass, as was Culberson, as water poured into the boat.

“I found a good trough to turn around in and we headed back in,” Wagner said, explaining that with the window blown out they could not continue. They notified the Coast Guard and as they docked at Station Destin, a Coast Guard boat was headed out to assist the floundering pontoon boat.

“There were no deep cuts,” Wagner said after EMS personnel checked him out. “Little cuts. Nothing significant.”

Still, workplace rules required that he be checked out, and he went to Destin ER. His lacerations did not require stitches. He did receive a tetanus shot as a precaution. Culberson’s wounds were also minor.

Will he go out again?

“No hesitation,” he said immediately. “There’s nothing better we do than safeguarding a life.”

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