Pounded by heavy surf and dragged seaward by undertow, a drowning tourist was very near death two years ago when Ocean City lifeguard David Shane Hayes skidded his four-wheeler on the beach and dived in after her.
Once safely ashore, the woman sputtered her gratitude in accented English and offered Mr. Hayes the use of her vacation house in France if he ever came to Europe.
"She kept telling him, `You saved my life, you saved my life,'" recalled Mr. Hayes' friend and fellow lifeguard Damian Noordhoorn. "And all David would say is, `That's what I'm here for.' If you ever knew David, you heard him say that a hundred times. You could always count on him."
On Tuesday, David Hayes died instantly of head injuries in a car accident outside Mobile, Ala., while moving with two friends to California. A former star and assistant coach on the St. Mary's College swim team, the Baltimore native was 25.
Blessed with good looks and natural athleticism, Mr. Hayes served for four years as the "65th Street guard" at Ocean City before rising this summer to crew chief for the Ocean City Beach Patrol, responsible for overseeing safety along five blocks of oceanfront.
"He was a natural leader," said Mr. Noordhoorn, a former teammate at St. Mary's. "And, of course, he was an excellent swimmer."
For a reluctant water baby who balked at joining the swim team at his community pool in Loch Raven two decades ago, such praise would have seemed highly unlikely.
"He stood there with his toes over the edge of the pool, crying his eyes out," said his mother, Sylvia Hayes. "And he went from there to breaking school records in the butterfly event at St. Mary's. Who knew?"
He attended St. Pius X School and went on to City College, where he stubbornly worked his way onto the high school's swim team during a freshman year marred by a broken big toe that kept him out of competition.
"At the end of the year, they gave him the `Unsung Hero Award' just for sticking it out," his mother said. "By his senior year, he was voted team MVP."
After graduating from City College in 1994, Mr. Hayes went straight onto the varsity at St. Mary's College, where he set about breaking several school records in the butterfly. He graduated with a double major in sociology and political science.
After graduating in 1998, he returned to the team as an assistant coach - between his annual stints with the Ocean City Beach Patrol and as a field interviewer for Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center.
To help assess health and environmental risk factors faced by inner-city children, Mr. Hayes toured Baltimore middle schools, interviewing youngsters about conditions in their homes and neighborhoods for a long-term study at the hospital.
Last year, he and a group of friends decided to move to Chula Vista, Calif., where they planned to seek jobs at local hospitals and research centers. Several months ago, they signed the lease on a house there.
"On Monday morning, David and two of his friends left in a new car he had just bought," his mother said. "On Tuesday, the police were at my door."
No one else was injured in the crash, which occurred when the driver apparently fell asleep at the wheel and the car struck a guardrail.
The next morning, several Ocean City lifeguards paddled surfboards off 65th Street, formed a circle and held a vigil for their friend, Mr. Noordhoorn said. On Thursday, Mayor James N. Mathias Jr. ordered flags in Ocean City to be lowered to half staff in the guard's memory.
A Mass of Christian burial will be held at St. Pius X Catholic Church, 6428 York Road, at 10 a.m. tomorrow, followed by a burial service at Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens.
Family members suggest that contributions be made in his name to St. Mary's Swimming, St. Mary's College of Maryland, St. Mary's City 20686.
In addition to his mother, Mr. Hayes is survived by his father, William O. Hayes III of Baltimore; a brother, Stephen K. Hayes of Baltimore; his paternal grandfather, William O. Hayes Jr. of Catonsville; his maternal grandmother, Sylvia Johnson of Catonsville; and three aunts.