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Friends Recall Desperate Effort to Save Fort Myers Beach Man from Hurricane Ian's Floodwaters: 'Scotty's Gone'

Scott Lumley
Scott Lumley

courtesy of Nancy Arbelo Scott Lumley

Scott Lumley loved his friends and his life on Fort Myers Beach, his home for most of the last 30 years.

"Everybody on the island knew my brother," his sister, Nancy Arbelo, tells PEOPLE. "He was just a big guy, a gentle giant. He had a heart of gold and never said a bad word about anybody."

Arbelo, 62, of Whitehouse Station, N.J., confirmed that her brother died after Hurricane Ian hit Florida as a Category 4 storm with sustained winds of 150 mph on Wednesday afternoon. Lumley, who was washed away from his home in the floodwaters, was one of more than 100 people who died in the storm.

Because of the lingering effects of a serious car accident almost 50 years ago, Lumley, 65, only had partial use of his arms and legs, used a cane and spoke with a stutter.

As his health worsened about two years ago, Lumley, a native of Martinsville, N.J., left his beloved island to live with Arbelo, her husband Hector, and their three children, so his sister could care for him.

Scott Lumley the three-wheeler he used to drive all over the island Courtesy of Nancy Arbelo
Scott Lumley the three-wheeler he used to drive all over the island Courtesy of Nancy Arbelo

Courtesy of Nancy Arbelo Scott Lumley on his 3-wheeled bike

But the pull of Fort Myers Beach, where he loved to ride his three-wheeled bicycle up and down the beach to visit friends, drew him back — despite Arbelo's pleas for him to stay in New Jersey.

"He was not happy here," says Arbelo. "He just wanted the beach life, and he missed seeing all his friends." About a year-and-a-half ago, she continues, "he got himself on an Amtrak and off to Florida he went. I tried to get him back here, so many times."

RELATED: 21-Year-Old Relives Hurricane Ian Pushing Her Grandpa's Home 'Towards Us' in Flood: 'I Lost Everything'

Back in Fort Myers Beach, Lumley was briefly homeless, sleeping on a bench near a Baptist church. During a rainstorm in January, Lynn Krinkey and her husband, Don Romano, who'd known Lumley for about 25 years, discovered him at a bus stop, banged up after someone robbed him. They decided to welcome Lumley into the one-story rented bungalow they called home.

"Everybody loved him on the beach," says Romano, 58. "He was a great guy."

Scott Lumley with his sister, Nancy Arbelo, and Nancy's children Courtesy Nancy Arbelo
Scott Lumley with his sister, Nancy Arbelo, and Nancy's children Courtesy Nancy Arbelo

Courtesy Nancy Arbelo Scott Lumley with his sister, Nancy Arbelo, and Nancy's children

When Hurricane Ian was forecast to hit Fort Myers Beach, Arbelo called her brother Tuesday. "I said, 'You need to get off that island, this is going to be catastrophic, worse than Katrina,' " she recalls. "He said, 'I know we're gonna be fine.' "

Arbelo spoke to Lumley Wednesday morning, begging him to leave. "He was like, 'It's not gonna be bad,' " she says. "And that was the last time I talked to him."

Not long after, the hurricane floodwaters began creeping up the steps of the bungalow, where Krinkey, Romano, Lumley and another friend named Chris hunkered down to ride out the storm.

Krinkey, 59, called 911 for help with Lumley, who was almost immobile because of his health issues. The dispatchers said they couldn't come "because of the winds and stuff like that," she says.

RELATED: Fla. Woman Reunites with Dad Who Disappeared in Hurricane Ian Flood Waters and Clung to Tree for 3 Hours

By mid-afternoon, a surge of floodwaters flipped Romano's white Ford Mustang convertible and swept it down the street.

Then the water "kept coming up," Krinkey tells PEOPLE. Before long, it started inching towards the ceiling. "We got on this mattress that was floating," she says.

Romano, who does maintenance at the Sandcastle Beach Club timeshare, bashed in the ceiling to create a hole into the attic. He hoisted himself, Krinkey and their two small dogs through the opening. With Chris still down below, they struggled to lift Lumley to safety.

"Chris was trying to grab hold of Scotty while the water was running by," says Romano, "and the water was pushing him up to the ceiling."

Scott Lumley with his brother-in-law, Hector Arbelo and two nieces, 1995 Courtesy of Nancy Arbelo
Scott Lumley with his brother-in-law, Hector Arbelo and two nieces, 1995 Courtesy of Nancy Arbelo

Courtesy of Nancy Arbelo Scott Lumley with his brother-in-law, Hector Arbelo. and two nieces in 1995

 

"We could hear Scotty screaming, 'Help, help,' " recalls Krinkey. "We just couldn't get him up there."

Chris grabbed an extension cord and tried to tie himself to Lumley and then to a tree or a post, Krinkey says, but the raging storm waters — now tossing around air conditioners, washers, dryers and refrigerators — were too powerful.

Krinkey says she's not sure how much time passed before Chris returned, climbed into the attic, and told them, "Scotty's gone."

"He said, 'Scotty was blue. I tried to bring him back, but I couldn't. The back wall washed out and he went with it,' " Krinkey recalls.

RELATED: After Harrowing Escape from Island in Hurricane Ian's Path, Couple Can't Wait to Go Home: 'It's Paradise'

After spending a night in the attic in prayer while the waters receded, Krinkey, Romano and their dogs, a Jack Russel terrier and a chihuahua, walked six miles to the Sandcastle Beach Club, where they spent the night before joining Romano's brother at his home in nearby Cape Coral.

Meanwhile, Chris, who'd stayed behind, found Lumley's body in the yard of the bungalow, beneath a refrigerator and other debris, Krinkey says.

Law enforcement officers contacted Arbelo on Friday with the news of her brother's death, she tells PEOPLE. She plans on him cremated and bringing his ashes back to New Jersey for a celebration of life ceremony.

FORT MYERS BEACH, FLORIDA - SEPTEMBER 29: In an aerial view, boats are piled on top of each other after Hurricane Ian passed through the area on September 29, 2022 in Fort Myers Beach, Florida. The hurricane brought high winds, storm surge and rain to the area causing severe damage. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
FORT MYERS BEACH, FLORIDA - SEPTEMBER 29: In an aerial view, boats are piled on top of each other after Hurricane Ian passed through the area on September 29, 2022 in Fort Myers Beach, Florida. The hurricane brought high winds, storm surge and rain to the area causing severe damage. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Joe Raedle/Getty Hurricane Ian damage in Fort Myers Beach

"He was living and doing what he wanted," Arbelo says. "Even after all he'd been through, he wasn't the type to say, 'Why me?' He made the best of every situation. He didn't have a mean bone in his body."

Romano tells PEOPLE he feels like he lost a brother. Krinkey continues to see her friend's face when she closes her eyes.

RELATED: Duo Deploy Boat to Rescue 29 People in Hard-Hit Fort Myers After Hurricane Ian: 'It Is a War Zone'

"I still can't eat," says Krinkey, a sales associate at a 7-Eleven that was destroyed by the hurricane. "It was tough seeing him die. Let me tell you."

In recent months, Lumley's health had continued to deteriorate. When he fell, the couple couldn't lift him and needed to call an ambulance for help, but Lumley refused to go to the hospital. So, rescue workers would put him back in his recliner.

"He was always a fighter and he probably fought till the end," says Romano. "Scotty always just talked about God. And he said, 'I'm never afraid to die. You know what I mean?' And he said, 'Whatever happens, happens.' "