Police don't suspect foul play in the Saturday death of James Hardin, 24, who drowned in a shallow retention pond on Jose Marti Drive in Key West.
Department spokeswoman Alyson Crean said "all signs point to accidental drowning," although the case remains open pending the results of an autopsy and toxicology screening from the Monroe County Medical Examiner's Office.
A memorial has popped up on the sidewalk next to the retention pond, adjacent to police headquarters and Horace O'Bryant Middle School. Friends are placing flowers and pictures of Hardin there.
Hardin's girlfriend, Priscilla Ceja, called him "a grand man." They were co-workers at One Call Construction.
"He did just about everything," she said. "He was such an amazing guy. He had so much energy and he was just so smart. You could ask him about anything and he would be able to tell you."
She added, "He's very loving and he's super caring, always looking out for other people before himself."
Hardin moved to Key West by himself at age 16 and began working at McDonald's on North Roosevelt Boulevard. In 2009, he won a national corporate essay and video contest and was selected to blog about the McDonald's All-American Game in Miami, a launch pad to the NBA for prep basketball players.
Among the greats who have played in McDonald's All-American games are Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Kevin Durant.
Ceja said Tuesday that funeral arrangements hadn't been finalized. "It's just really hard because we just don't have the funds for it. I'm doing my best."
She has set up a Facebook page. Search "celebrating the life of James Hardin V." There's a link to a PayPal account.
Police reports say Hardin was walking from Bayview Park, across Jose Marti, to get in a Five 6s taxi driven by Ernest Edge Jr. just before 3:06 a.m. when police arrived from the next-door station.
Edge told police that "Hardin walked towards his taxi from the area of Bayview Park. Hardin appeared intoxicated and was stumbling towards his taxi. Hardin walked around to the passenger side of the taxi. Hardin began walking closer to the pond ... lit a cigarette and then fell backwards into the pond."
Edge said he checked and saw Hardin's "head was above water. He then went to the police station next door to get help." Officer Karl Malsheimer spotted Hardin's shoes sticking up from the surface, so he took off his gun belt and pulled Hardin from chest-deep water.
"A brown muddy liquid began pouring out of Hardin's mouth," Malsheimer reported.
Malsheimer then started chest compressions and "water and foam began spurting out of Hardin's mouth." Hardin, a computer tech and director of operations at One Call Construction, was pronounced dead at Lower Keys Medical Center at 3:35 a.m.