OCEAN CITY – Tragedy struck last week when a 24-year-old
Middle River, Md. man died in an unguarded north Ocean City hotel swimming
pool, which it was discovered yesterday was required to have a lifeguard on
duty at the time.
Around 10:30 p.m. last Thursday, James Robert Cullum, 24,
of Middle River, was swimming in the pool at the Fenwick Inn in north Ocean
City with friends and family when he jumped in and did not come back up.
Attempts to resuscitate the victim at the pool were unsuccessful and 911 was
quickly called. Cullum was transported to Atlantic General Hospital in Berlin
but never recovered, according to resort police.
“We responded to a reported CPR in progress and by the
time we got there, they were already working on him,” said Ocean City Police
Department (OCPD) spokesperson Jessica Waters this week. “According to
witnesses, including his family members, everybody was playing in the pool,
jumping and splashing and doing cannon balls, when he apparently jumped in and
went to the bottom and didn’t come back up.”
Waters said the OCPD responded as a matter of protocol,
but no evidence of foul play was discovered. The victim was transported to the
state Medical Examiner’s Office for an autopsy, the results of which are not
“Our involvement was to determine if there was any
criminal element to the case, which there wasn’t,” she said. “They’re looking
at it as a possible drowning, but we’ll have to see what the autopsy
According to Worcester County Health Department Assistant
Director of Environmental Health Tom Possident, the pool did not have a
lifeguard posted at the time of the incident in violation of a variance
acquired by the hotel from the state health department back in 2006 when
substantial changes were made to the facility. County health department
officials inspected the pool last Friday after Thursday’s tragic incident and
discovered the apparent violation of the variance granted by the state health
department in 2006.
The county health department reported the alleged
violation of the Fenwick Inn’s safety plan for the pool to the state health
department, which, in turn, revoked the variance that allowed the hotel’s pool
to be open without a lifeguard on duty.
“Basically, when we got the call about the incident, we
did an inspection last Friday and discovered the Fenwick Inn was not in
compliance with its approved safety plan for the pool,” said Possident
yesterday. “We closed the pool indefinitely and informed the state office they
were not in compliance with their safety plan.”
As a result, the state health department closed the hotel
pool for nearly a week until it could conduct a review of the Fenwick Inn’s
required safety plan. Late yesterday, apparently satisfied with the changes
made to the hotel’s safety plan, the state health department authorized the
re-opening of the pool with a requirement for not one, but two lifeguards on
duty at all times when the pool is open.
Essentially, most pools in Worcester County and Ocean City
are classified as private pools, semi-public pools or recreational pools. Most
hotel, motel and condominium pools are considered under law as semi-public
pools and as such are not required to have lifeguards on duty with certain
exceptions. Semi-public pools of 2,500 square feet or more are required to have
lifeguards on duty from Memorial Day to Labor Day, but 2,500 square feet is
pretty large, according to Possident, and most of the semi-public pools in the
resort area do not meet the minimum requirement for lifeguards.
“There are a few that come to mind, but most hotel, motel
or condo pools in the area fall well below that 2,500 square foot threshold,
which precludes them from having a lifeguard on duty,” said Possident.
“However, they are all required to have the necessary signage and other safety
equipment and safety features on hand.”
Recreational pools are generally classified as larger
community pools or pools for which a fee is directly charged. An example of a
recreational pool in the county is the community pool in Ocean Pines. However,
certain water park-type features added to a semi-public pool, such as splash
features or other amenities, can change a classification from semi-public to
recreational. The latter is what occurred with the Fenwick Island pool.
According to Possident, when the Fenwick Inn made
substantial changes to its existing pool in 2006, the facility’s definition
changed from semi-public to recreational. Fenwick Inn officials then applied
for and received a variance from the state health department allowing them to
have the pool open without lifeguard as long as it adhered to the other
elements of its approved safety plan.
However, after the tragic incident last Thursday, the county
health department determined not all of the elements of the hotel’s approved
safety plan were being met and closed the pool. The Fenwick Inn has since
resubmitted an amended safety plan to the state, which was approved late
yesterday, allowing the pool to reopen. However, the pool is now required to
have two lifeguards on duty when the facility is open to guests.