OCEAN CITY — A 52-year-old Maryland man lost his life in an apparent drowning just 50 yards off Ocean City on Monday evening, leaving the town’s beach patrol telling an all too familiar cautionary tale.
Richard Robert Wagner of Boyds, Md. and his 16-year-old son reportedly got caught in a rip current near 35th Street just before 6:30 p.m., one hour after lifeguards had left for the day.
After receiving the distress call, the Ocean City Fire Department’s Amanda Shoemaker and Maria Berdan, could see the boy in the surf about 50 yards out, but there was no sign of the father, according to Beach Patrol Lieutenant Ward Kovacs.
“We aren’t sure if the father went into the surf to save the boy, or if they were both out there swimming together and they both got caught in the rip current,” said Kovacs. “The investigation hasn’t led us to that yet.”
A widespread search ensued for the missing man, who hadn’t surfaced since responders arrived at the scene, as a Maryland State Police helicopter and the US Coast Guard helped try to assist the patrol and rescue responders in finding the man.
Police reports said that Wagner’s body was spotted two blocks north (near 37th Street) by a surfer at approximately 7:10 p.m.
Wagner was pronounced dead at the hospital, while the 16-year-old son was treated and released from Atlantic General Hospital.
Witnesses on the beach say that there was little wind and that the waves were unusually flat for the time of year. Regardless, patrol officials say that rip currents can be dangerous when there aren’t big waves.
“It’s tragic, and not just because a man lost his life, but also because it was so preventable,” said Kovacs. “We didn’t have any rescue attempts at all that day, and the ocean didn’t seem to be very inviting, but if people would just listen to us and stay out of the ocean when the guards are off duty, tragedies like this can be avoided.”
Although there were no drownings in Ocean City waters last year, the two years prior saw several incidents that were similar, according to Kovacs.
“Two years ago, we had the family from Fruitland where the father died while trying to save his two sons, and the year before that, we had the father and daughter who drowned while he was trying to save her,” Kovacs said.
Once again, beach patrol officials are urging swimmers to “keep their feet in the sand until the guard is in the stand”, going into their final weekend for full coverage.
“After Sunfest, that’s it for us, but we will be having roving ATV patrols up and down the beach as we break everything down and prepare for the winter,” said Kovacs.