OCEAN CITY – Early morning dense fog compounded search and rescue efforts last Sunday after a boat collided with the Route 90 bridge sending its 10 occupants into the water with a wide variety of injuries.
Ocean City Police Captain Kevin Kirstein, who is also a volunteer fireman, was off-duty and home in bed around 1 a.m. last Sunday morning when his fire department pager went off, signaling a boat accident in the Assawoman Bay at the Route 90 bridge with several victims in the water. Kirstein said this week he checked the weather conditions and saw dense fog had shrouded the area and opted to respond in his private boat rather than drive to the scene in his vehicle.
A short time later, the police captain slowly approached the bridge and the accident scene relying only on the vessel’s radar system. Dense fog had settled in on the resort area and likely contributed to the accident, forcing Kirstein and others who responded to scene to search almost blindly for the 10 victims in the water.
“I couldn’t see the bridge and I definitely couldn’t see the wreck, but I picked up the location on my radar because the boat was only partially submerged,” he said. “Part of the boat was still sticking out of the water, which was enough to get a radar reading on.”
Around 1 a.m. last Sunday, a 21-foot fiberglass ski boat carrying 10 people collided with an abutment on the Route 90 bridge, severely damaging the vessel and sending all of the occupants into the murky water with injuries of varied severity. The vessel reportedly just left a midtown nightclub, but Maryland Department of Natural Resources officials have not confirmed its point of origin and therefore could not confirm earlier reports.
Maryland Natural Resources Police (NRP) along with the Coast Guard and the Ocean City Fire Department responded to the scene a short time later, as did several local firefighters in their private boats. Kirstein said this week he opted to launch his own boat from his residence on 120th Street because of the fog conditions. He knew the official fire department boat was not equipped with radar and also knew radar would likely be needed to find the wreck and the victims. The fire department’s two current rescue boats are not equipped with radar, although the department is in the process of acquiring a vessel that is.
“The two boats we have are excellent for what we use them for,” said Kirstein. “They can get to areas with shallow water and allow us to make rescues during floods etc. but they aren’t equipped for unique situations like this. We’re in the process of getting another boat equipped with radar dedicated for this kind of rescue. It’s clearly needed and this incident illustrated that.”
In his private boat, Kirstein was among the first to arrive on the scene. Knowing there were multiple victims in the water and because of the dense fog, he had to slowly approach the scene.
“I eased into the area slowly because I knew there were victims in the water and didn’t want to compound the problem by racing in there,” he said.
By the time he arrived, two of the victims were clinging to the base of the bridge. The others were still in the water with a wide variety of injuries including neck and back injuries, cuts, scrapes and abrasions and even shock, according to Kirstein, who said it was difficult to convince them to get on his boat.
“Many of them were reluctant to get on the boat because they wanted to get the most seriously injured on board first,” he said. “With the fog and the nature of their injuries, I didn’t want to leave anybody behind. It was a little tight but we got everybody on board.”
With the victims safely secured, paramedics were ferried out to Kirstein’s boat to begin treating their injuries. The boat operator, identified as Scott Howard Shepard, 32, of Rockville, Md., was not seriously injured and was detained by NRP officers. Later in the week, the NRP charged Shepard with a variety of offenses after consulting with Worcester County State’s Attorney Joel Todd.
Shepard has been charged with operating a vessel while under the influence of alcohol, operating a vessel while impaired by alcohol, operating a vessel while impaired by drugs, and/or combination of drugs and alcohol, operating a vessel in a reckless or dangerous manner, negligent operation of a vessel, failure to maintain a proper lookout, and operating a vessel at unsafe speed for conditions. Shepard was released on his signature and a court date has been scheduled in Worcester County District Court on Sept. 26.
Five of the injured victims remained on Kirstein’s boat and two others were transported to OCVFC Lieutenant John Fisher’s boat. Fisher, along with OCVFC officials Skip Bunting and David Cropper, had also responded to the scene in their own vessels.
Kirstein said NRP officials directed the private rescue boats to head to nearby Advanced Marine where the injured victims could be transported to area hospitals. Early on in the incident, the fire command put mass casualty protocols into effect, essentially alerting all area hospitals to prepare for accepting victims.
Because of the dense fog, Maryland State Police and Coast Guard helicopters could not land in Ocean City and the rescue boats with the victims were forced to resort to another option. The Coast Guard helicopter could and ultimately did land in Ocean Pines and the rescue boats were redirected there where a triage of sorts was set up where the victims’ injuries were assessed and they were transported to area hospitals depending on their priorities.
Even after Kirstein and Fisher dropped their injured cargo at Ocean Pines, the ordeal was n0t over yet for the pair of rescuers. Because Fisher’s boat was not equipped with radar, Kirstein had to lead him back through the fog to his residence on 32nd Street.
Two victims were sent to PRMC in Salisbury and seven were sent to AGH in Berlin. Brenden Shepard, 26, of Rockville, was sent to PRMC and remains hospitalized with undisclosed but non-life threatening injuries. Danielle Vollmar, 23, was also sent to PRMC where she was treated and released.
The following victims were treated and released at AGH: Kendel L. Droppa, 25, of Reisterstown; Holly Rudiger, 27, of Columbia; Jason R. Baumann, 31. of Silver Spring; Todd Newell, 26, of Rockville; and Glenn Shepard, 38, of Deland, Fla.
Melissa Shepard, 27, of Deland, Fla., Blake Newell, 27, of Silver Spring, and the operator, Scott Shepard, were treated at the scene.
The Route 90 bridge was closed for several hours on Sunday morning until Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA) engineers determined the extent of the damage and deemed it safe for vehicular traffic.