Florida man killed in South Carolina skydiving accident
You could hear Justin Swaggerty’s laugh booming from the third floor of the Mercato parking garage while he stood on the patio of BRAVO Cucina Italiana.
That’s how Rob Campbell, a manager for the North Naples restaurant, described his former employee's infectious charm.
All that remains of Swaggerty’s laugh is an echo in the minds of those touched by his joy. Swaggerty died June 6 in a skydiving accident in Chester, South Carolina. The Naples resident and Barron Collier High School graduate was 20.
“The best word to describe Justin Swaggerty is vivacious,” Campbell said. “The man had life. Energy. He brought a lot of people together."
According to a report from NBC affiliate WCNC, Swaggerty died while parachuting with Skydive Carolina. Skydive Carolina told WCNC the tragedy happened just before 7 p.m. June 6 during the landing sequence of a skydive, when he collided with a grounded aircraft.
“We are devastated by this loss," Skydive Carolina owner Danny Smith told WCNC. "We are a tight-knit community living out our passions, but losing anyone hurts deeply. Our thoughts and prayers are with the family of the deceased and our community.”
Charles Weber, a longtime family friend, said Swaggerty would make it a point to go out of his way to help anybody who needed it, something that proved to be infectious: Weber created a GoFundMe to help cover funeral expenses for Swaggerty.
In the fundraiser’s description, Weber noted Justin’s mother, Laura Swaggerty, is a single mom who was struggling to cover the expenses related to the tragedy. As of 12:30 p.m. Monday, the fundraiser had exceeded its $25,000 goal, which was raised to $33,000 later in the day.
"It shows how good of a person he was," Weber said, pointing to the positivity Swaggerty carried with him everywhere he went. "That was just his call sign."
Mary Avenatti Beatty led Swaggerty in the Young Life ministry’s Wyldlife program when he was a middle school student.
“He drew you in with his kind eyes, through which you could see his gentle, loving soul,” she wrote in a text message. “Everyone he met was a friend to him and felt loved by him. He touched so many lives wherever he went. Our community is heartbroken and will have a large void without his presence.”
Swaggerty’s life was cut short just before he became a licensed commercial pilot, according to Weber and Campbell.
Campbell said he had the privilege of watching Swaggerty grow from a kid to a “legitimate gentleman,” noting that even as a food runner, he had regulars at the restaurant. Campbell even recalled when a close family member died and Swaggerty caught his manager in a bad mood.
“What’s going on, big boss?” Swaggerty asked.
“The way he said it, his voice while he said it just made you laugh. It made you smile. He just had that ability,” Campbell said.
The world, he said, lost a bright light in Swaggerty’s absence. The loss, however, only reinforces the greatest lesson Swaggerty imparted on those who knew him.
“Live your life,” Campbell said. “You don’t want to miss out. And he did not miss out, the way he lived.”
Andrew Atkins is a Naples Daily News features reporter. Contact him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This story originally published to naplesnews.com, and was shared to other Florida newspapers in the USA TODAY Network - Florida.