Thoughts From The Publisher’s Desk

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If this week’s discussion about the budget in Ocean City is any indication, it doesn’t appear relations are improving between the city and Worcester County.

Former Ocean City Councilman Vince Gisriel and fellow detractors seemed to strike a nerve among Ocean City officials when questioning the budget at Monday’s meeting. Gisriel clearly annoyed a few council members with his comments about the need to be “frugal” in light of the large tax increase the county is going to approve for the next fiscal year.

“The responsible thing to do knowing that the county is going to raise the rate at some amount, I predict somewhere in the range of 7.10 [cents], which is bad enough but given that factor the local government should hold the line,” Gisriel said. “… Any way you can get it down to at least the level of last year or below because I think we are going to have a significant increase in the county.”

With it clear Ocean City is likely getting nothing from the plan it submitted to address the long-term issue of tax differential, Meehan seemed frustrated by the insinuation Ocean City needs to make budget decisions based on what the county will be doing.

“If you work for 12 years in Worcester County and retire, you get health benefits for life, for you and your spouse. Tell me another state, city or municipality that does that and that has been funded by Ocean City. They have had very few reductions in work force unlike the Town of Ocean City did, and it is catching up with them. It is unfortunate that we should pay for that mistake,” he said. “… If we cut it to a lower level that is being suggested, then it is the level of service that we will be cutting, and then we will have a lot more people in this room talking about the budget.”

Councilman Dennis Dare also weighed in, bringing up the tax differential issue.

“… we are still collecting as much money as we did last year overall, so if you really want a tax break then go to Snow Hill [Worcester County] and talk to them about a tax differential instead of knit picking the little stuff that we are talking about here,” Dare said.

City officials feel they have done a good job of not sacrificing services and keeping a responsible tax burden while reminding Ocean City property owners they need to be worried about what the Worcester County Commissioners will be doing more so than what’s happening in Ocean City. There’s no question Dare and Meehan believed the city was the subject of misplaced anxiety and the real questioning should be directed at the officials in Snow Hill. They have a point.

 

I give the Worcester County Department of Liquor Control two more years before it’s dissolved. It should probably be sooner but legislation must be approved by the Maryland General Assembly establishing a new type of license.

I see the timeline like this. The earliest legislation can be passed, assuming it’s introduced by Senator Jim Mathias and approved as a “local courtesy bill,” would be next April of 2016 and then an October 2016 likely signature of approval from the governor. With that being just three months into the government’s fiscal year that starts July 1, 2016, we find it unlikely the county government would be able to divest itself of the department without financial hardships and other complications. Consequently, it my guess it will be July 2017 when the commissioners make the move to shutter the operation.

The long and short of it the county wants out, but it’s not going to be easy and it will take some time.

 

The loss of a child is arguably the greatest heartache the human psyche is forced to endure, and it seems to happen all too often.

When I first heard of Dawson Twining’s passing Sunday morning from a co-worker, there was shock, of course, but my immediate attention turned to his parents, Janet and David, long-time friends. I was trying to imagine their shock and horror and from that point on they have been in my thoughts multiple times a day.

While I do not diminish the loss felt by other family members and close friends, the parents are the ones who endure the greatest pain and loss. It’s a nightmare that you never wake up from and the Twinings have weighed on many hearts this week.

They are blessed to have tremendous community support, another reason why living here is so special. That was evident when I visited their home this week, but they will need more of it in the future. One parent I spoke with this week lost a child unexpectedly six years ago in a car accident. He said the sorrow is always there, but time does eventually do its magic, as life provides inevitable distractions. “At some point, you come to accept the new reality and the new normal, but it’s a long and slow process. It never really gets easier. It just changes,” he said.

 

Services Announced For Well-Known Fenwick Restaurateurs’ Son

Dawson Twining

(The following is the full obituary.)

FENWICK ISLAND — Dawson Reeves Twining, 27, of Bishopville, died unexpectedly on Sunday, May 3.
Born March 7, 1988, he was the youngest son of David and Janet Twining, owners of Nantuckets Restaurant on Route 1 and the Lobster Shanty on Route 54.
Twining was a 2006 graduate of Stephen Decatur High School where he played varsity football and varsity golf. After high school, he attended Towson University.
Dawson’s enthusiasm for life, wonderful smile, infectious personality and charismatic way were well known to all who came in contact with him and will never be forgotten. He was always known to light up any room he entered.
Whether it was working at his parents’ restaurants, attending a social function or playing on the golf course, he was always upbeat and had an unmistakable zeal for life.
Known simply as “Daws” to his close friends and family, he was an affable young man who was fortunate to have a large number of great friends in his life. He was a charming individual who touched the lives of many during his short time. He was the original “kid” on Comcast’s Kidzone program and was the original “Monkey Man.”
A message on the Lobster Shanty’s marquee this week read, “Fly On Dawson, You Will Always Be A Part Of The Magic. We Love You.”
Along with his parents, he is survived by his brother, Delaney and his wife, Laura; his two dogs, Zelda and Stella; a large and extended family; and many cherished friends.
While shocked and distraught over Dawson’s passing, the family wishes to thank all those in the community who have reached out with heartfelt messages over the last week. They have been much appreciated.
A funeral service will be held at noon on Saturday, May 9, 2015 at the Bethany chapel of Melson Funeral Services, 38040 Muddy Neck Road, Ocean View, Del. 19970, where friends may call from 9 a.m. to noon on Saturday. Interment will be private. After the services, there will be a celebration of his life at Twining’s Lobster Shanty.
In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made in his name to the Believe in Tomorrow Children’s Foundation, c/o Wayne Littleton, 13 66th Street, Ocean City, Md. 21842 or online at www.believeintomorrow.org/giving/

Patience A Virtue With Dissolving Liquor Dept.

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It’s not a question of if Worcester County will shutter its liquor retail and wholesale operation. It’s more about how to do it in a smart financial way and when.

How exactly it will get out of the liquor business is under consideration, but clearly the County Commissioners are committed to end the operation. That much we know from a draft of the Worcester County Commissioners’ Strategic Plan, which it meant to serve as a guide for the present elected officials’ terms in office.

A memo included in the media’s packet at the County Commissioners meeting touched upon the liquor issue and how the sunset clause that opened the marketplace for bars and restaurants has “proved challenging to the continued profitability of DLC operations.”

The memo’s language read, “… the County Commissioners have directed staff to develop an Exit Strategy that could be instituted at some point in the future to guide the orderly withdraw from wholesale and/or retail sales of alcoholoic beverages in Worcester County. The Exit Strategy shall consider actions necessary to eventually wind down DLC operations with the least possible impact on DLC staff, the least cost implications to Worcester County and liquidation of current DLC holdings and in a way that will ensure continued fair pricing of alcoholic beverages to Worcester County licensees and retail consumers.”

In a ranking of top five priorities, the exit strategy is tied for second, demonstrating its importance among the current group. The problem is it’s probably going to cost the county a lot of money to shut down the operation, particularly if it’s done abruptly and without a plan that takes into account all the intricacies of employee compensation, retail store leases, insurance policies and inventory liquidation.

The county is right to be deliberate with this process and it must be frugal and let financial issues drive the decision making process. We have advocated for the end of government-run liquor sales for decades, but we don’t want to see it done in a fashion that hurts the county’s taxpayers. That benefits nobody.

While acknowledging the major impact the open market has had on operations, DLC Executive Director Bob Cowger proudly states county tax dollars are not used to fund the department. Instead, revenue from sales funds operations. That reiterates the need to not hurt the county’s budget by dissolving the department.

It might take a couple years for the county to completely divest itself of the liquor department. If that’s the case, patience will be a virtue so long as it’s there are no unrealistic hopes that profits will one day rebound. That will not happen.

 

Things I Like

Live music on Berlin’s Main Street

 

Looking at photos of a trip a few weeks after getting home

 

Running the Boardwalk in the early morning hours

 

Actor Kevin James

 

Playing soccer against my boys

 

People who are too busy living to waste time hating

 

Hearing old stories about the area

 

Learning something

 

Watching a house being built that’s not mine

 

Smell of an baseball glove

 

An afternoon movie on a rainy day

Boardwalkin’ For Pets, Other Events Planned For Shelter; Adolfo’s Hosting Dinner Fundraiser

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OCEAN CITY — Ocean City is going to the dogs April 24-26 for a weekend of fundraising for the Worcester County Humane Society, including the 16th Annual Boardwalkin’ for Pets event on Saturday, April 25.

The weekend kicks off on Friday, April 24 at Adolfo’s on the ocean from 5-9 p.m. Advance tickets are being sold online at www.worcestercountyhumanesociety.org/boardwalkin-for-pets or at Adolfo’s for $15 and includes spaghetti and meatballs, side salad, fresh baked rolls, dessert and nonalcoholic beverage. Tickets will also be available at the door for $20. Adolfo’s will donate a percentage from every ticket purchased to the Worcester County Humane Society. There will also be some fantastic items available for a silent auction.

On Saturday, April 25 from 9 a.m.-noon, grab your best friend and head to the Inlet for the 16th Annual Boardwalkin’ for Pets. Registration starts at 8:30 a.m. with the walk starting at 9 a.m. Raise money for the walk and receive prizes. This is the perfect opportunity to create a team. After the long winter, what better way to gather some family, friends, classmates, coworkers or neighbors and raise money, walk and have fun. There is a $25 minimum for individuals and for teams a $25 per team per member minimum. Prizes will be awarded to the highest pledge earners, top individual and team. Enter contests and win prizes for largest dog, smallest dog, best dressed dog and best dog trick. There will be refreshments provided by Harrison’s Harbor Watch Restaurant and Layton’s Family Restaurant on 16th Street.

For the out of town walkers, special rates are available at the following dog friendly hotels — La Quinta Inn & Suites, Comfort Inn & Suites and the Clarion. Mention Boardwalkin’ for Pets to receive the special rates.

If you don’t have a dog, “adopt” a shelter dog for the event. Arrangements must be made in advance by calling the shelter at 410-213-0146.

Additionally, organizers don’t want to forget about the feline friends. Bring a photo of your cat to the walk with your contact information written on the back. A special prize basket will be awarded to the “cutest cat.” Photos will not be returned.

“This year’s event promises to be like no other,” said Boardwalkin’ for Pets Chair Heather Bahrami. “We are excited for many new additions to the schedule of events including red carpet photos for the dogs as well as training tips from K9 Heeling.”

After the walk on Saturday, head over to South Moon Under on 81st Street and Malibu’s Surf Shop on 8th Street and the Boardwalk for some shopping. Both shops will be donating a percentage of sales for the day to the Worcester County Humane Society.

No trip to the beach is complete without some water fun. On Sunday, April 26, from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. head down to Coastal Kayak in Fenwick Island for “Paddle with your Pooch.” For a donation of your choice, take a kayak out with your pooch and enjoy a scenic paddle on the bay. All are welcome with or without a dog. Life jackets for the dogs will also be available at Coastal Kayak. All proceeds go to the Worcester County Humane Society.

The Worcester County Humane Society, located on 12330 Eagles Nest Road off Route 611, is a nonprofit, no-kill animal shelter and operates mainly on donations. Boardwalkin’ for Pets is the shelter’s largest fundraiser held every year. All money raised is used to care for the many dogs and cats that call the shelter home. In addition to providing everyday care, the animals also receive veterinary care which can be quite expensive. Last year walkers raised $25,000 for the shelter. This year the goal is $50,000.

 

Busy Cruisin’ Weekend Launches Summer Season With Huge Crowds, Major Traffic Backups; City Officials, Promoter To Review Event

South Ocean City is pictured Saturday morning as Cruisin’ participants line up to enter the Inlet parking lot, one of the official event headquarters. Photo by Rally Rides/Howard Whaley

OCEAN CITY — A lively debate ensued among the business and residential sectors this week over the Cruisin’ event with critics maintaining it needs major changes and supporters welcoming it as one of the busiest times of the year.

Throughout the course of the weekend and early part of the week, Ocean City residents vented on social media their frustrations over massive traffic backups, infrastructure damage to roads caused by the thousands of classic cars in town spinning out and the massive amounts of litter left behind by irresponsible visitors. In fact, one long-time Ocean City resident described the event in a letter to the editor as “broken” and in need of massive changes before the town hosts it again.

“Why are these people allowed to flaunt our laws? We have an ordinance for noise (broken), an ordinance against public drinking (broken), an ordinance against speeding and reckless driving (broken), and an ordinance against illegal trailer parking (broken). I wouldn’t want to be the one to explain our hypocrisy to visitors charged with those same violations later on this summer,” wrote resident Gabriel Mancini. “The business of Ocean City, that is to say, our image, our “brand”, is suffering from this ill-planned, poorly executed event. How many people didn’t come down because of the Cruisers? How many people will never be back? This weekend was an embarrassment to the Town of Ocean City.”

Mancini challenged the council to conduct a thorough review of the event, which he does not want to see end.

“Stand up for the people who live here. No group event should impact the town at the expense of the people who call it home,” Mancini said. “If the cruisers want to come to Ocean City and obey our laws, we should welcome them … in March or April.”

One of the event’s producers, Bob Rothermel, a former tourism and special events director for the town, took exception to the negatives being hurled by community members at the Cruisin’ event, which had 3,300 registered vehicles this year.

“The event is not broken I can tell you that. It’s a fine event. I think the biggest problem that we have is it’s the biggest event at the start of the season. The town wakes up almost like being shot out of a cannon. I would venture to say like any event or any group of people 95 to 99 percent of the people are not the problem. There is a small majority who gives us some trouble. It’s those who have nothing to do with the event that causes the problems and give the event a bad name,” Rothermel said.

In the event registered participants were discovered to be causing trouble, Rothermel said his team revoked their registration credentials. He said his group controls what it can, but acknowledged much of the responsibility falls to the Ocean City Police Department.

“We want the police to have a heavy hand. We don’t want the event to go south. Knuckleheads will create problems for the masses. If you look at the Inlet parking lot, these people are members of AARP walking with their grandchildren or they are families with young children. It’s the perfect event for Ocean City, except it has to be managed in a way that I don’t think we are capable of doing,” he said. “We can’t enforce the streets, but we do what we can to keep an eye on the participants. We can’t control those who are not part of the event and come down here to create havoc. That’s where the problem lies.”

Although detractors of the weekend made their displeasure known this week, on the flip side were multiple posts on the Facebook page of Cruisin’ and others indicated the police were too strict and ruined the weekend’s fun for participants.

Ocean City Communications Manager Jessica Waters said the city will always rule on the site of caution when it comes to public safety.

“There are certainly some people on both sides of the fence in regards to how the event went. The emails I was getting was that our police department was overzealous with their enforcement. Our opinion as a town is safety and cleanliness is our number one priority, so our police department while some might feel are overzealous, their job is to make sure everyone is safe here in Ocean City,” she said. “Cruiser week can be a traffic event with a lot of cars on the roadway and their priority is to make sure everyone that is on the road is being safe and following all of the rules.”

Rothermel said he will be meeting with Mayor Rick Meehan and City Manager David Recor next week to review the event. He said this is not conducted every year, but in light of concerns expressed he wants to make sure the city and the special event are on the same proverbial page.

“Already, we have 1,000 cars signed up for next spring’s event. Ocean City is the perfect destination for the event,” Rothermel said. “What we want to do is create an economic impact and maintain our welcome by stimulating business everywhere. I want to make sure [at this meeting] that we are still welcome and doing everything we can to be a corporate citizen of the town. The summer season starts with Cruisin’ now, not Memorial Day. In many cases, I hear Cruisin’ weekend is better than Memorial Day weekend and even the 4th of July. It’s not all about profit, but it has become the economic engine that kicks off the summer season. We have to realize this is a resort. It’s not a retirement community. Business is going to have to happen for us to enjoy the community that we live in.”

Ocean City Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association (OCHMRA) Executive Director Susan Jones views some of the perceived problems from the weekend as representative of the changes in society and culture.

“The offenders are the big old pickup trucks blowing black smoke everywhere. It’s almost like the VW takeover in September with the big truck groups … I think they were the big offenders,” Jones said. “I don’t think Cruisin’ itself is the problem. I think it’s the way social media is impacting tourism. Social media has impacted travelers’ vacations today. It’s today’s youth not being raised the way we were. It’s society changing and the visitor of today is much different than those of 25 years ago.”

G. Hale Harrison of the Harrison Group, a company that operates 10 hotels and 10 restaurants in Ocean City, echoed the sentiments from Rothermel and Jones that the concerns over Cruisin’ are rooted in the non-event participants. He said it would behoove town and police officials to focus on the other groups not affiliated with Cruisin’ because his perspective is they are causing a majority of the problems.
“There are other events that are falling on the same dates that are being confused by the public with Cruisin’. The big trucks and the mustangs come on that weekend and they are not part of Cruisin’. They are separate and I don’t think it’s essential to the business community. The hotels will be full just with Cruisin’. These other events have just sprung up in the last year or two and they do cause more problems,” Harrison said. “The city can make an impact without hurting businesses by looking into those events and the dates they come.”

According to Waters, the chief complaint that disturbs her is the aspect of how dirty the resort appeared at various times of the weekend from reckless visitors.

“I have talked to a lot of people who have come down for the event, and people who live here, and like I said from the local standpoint it’s that they are just disturbed people are coming here being so disrespectful by throwing trash everywhere. That is very upsetting for us,” she said. “We have an amazing Public Works Department who works really, really hard to make sure Ocean City looks spic and span. That is unacceptable, and we are certainly the first people to say that is unacceptable, and that is definitely going to be on our after action report as we head into next year to make sure the same thing doesn’t happen again. No one wants to see Ocean City disrespected and have trash thrown anywhere in our town, especially when we all work so hard to keep it so clean. There is definitely going to be some discussion moving forward as to how we can prevent that type of thing from happening again.”

Jones understands a discussion may be held between Cruisin’ promoters and the city about moving the event to April, but she said that’s unlikely to happen for practical reasons.

“The only problem is it would have to be mid-April because it takes 10 days to set up the tents for Springfest. In addition, if it’s mid-April, you are not going to have enough hotel rooms open, and Cruisin’ fills the hotels rooms, absolutely,” Jones said.

Harrison, current president of the OCHMRA, cautioned the city and Cruisin’ about any discussion of changing the event dates in the future.

“May weekends, aside from Cruisin’ and Memorial Day, are not particularly strong from a business standpoint. Losing Cruisin’ would be disastrous to the business community. It’s as strong as Memorial Day weekend. Our season is short enough already and losing one of the prime weekends would be painful. Any event can be refined and improved and looking into how we can improve it for residents, participants and businesses is certainly a worthy effort,” Harrison said. “We are talking about killing a golden goose so we have to be really careful there.”

Waters could not confirm whether a date change request was being considered by the city at this point.
“Cruiser weekend has done a really good job in the past 24 years and has been a really successful event. A lot of people that come for the event are really here to show off their pride in their vehicles but unfortunately there are people that come who don’t necessarily have those intentions,” Waters said. “While they have been around for a long time, sometimes it might be time to make a change and what has worked in past years might not be working anymore. I would assume before next year’s event or before the fall event, there is going to be a conversation with the city manager and the Mayor and Council to determine how we are not going to run into those same problems, and how we are going to make changes to improve the quality of the event and the quality of Ocean City for our residents and our visitors.”

 

 

 

 

 

Berlin Elderly Couple Mourned After Murder-Suicide

Berlin Police and WCBI members are pictured outside the home of Lester and Ada Wright on Wednesday morning. Photo by Steve Green

BERLIN — An elderly couple’s apparent planned murder-suicide shocked many in the Berlin community this week, but many found comfort in their memories of the long-time residents.

Early Wednesday morning, around 8, the Berlin Police Department received a call in reference to a shooting. Along with Berlin officers, the Worcester County Bureau of Investigation (WCBI) responded to the scene at 603 Williams Street as well as the Maryland State Police Homicide Unit.

Worcester County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Ed Schreier confirmed at noon on Wednesday that authorities believe the male resident of the house, Lester Wright, 89, shot his wife, Ada, 90, and then attempted to kill himself. Lester Wright was found alive on the scene and was reportedly speaking to first responders before dying a short time later at PRMC in Salisbury.

“They are investigating this as a suspected murder-suicide. A female was shot twice. The male had what appeared to be three self-inflicted gunshot wounds. He was transported to PRMC and died at PRMC. She was found deceased in the residence,” Schreier said. “It’s still currently being investigated.”

Schreier said part of the probe is determining a possible motive for the incident.

“At this point in time, we do not have any of that information,” Schreier said.  “We can’t speculate as to the reason why at this point.”

While the official investigation continues, knowledge sources and acquaintances of the couple are grieving. Many community members hope the couple will be remembered for the lives they lived rather than simply the ending.

Lester Wright, 89, and Ada “Midge” Wright, 90, purchased their Berlin home in 1965, according to land records. Lester Wright was a former auto dealership owner on Old Ocean City Blvd, and Ada “Midge” Wright spent 25 years working at The Moore Companies, a landscaping business based in Berlin off Broad Street.

According to sources close to the Wrights, the couple was in the process of selling their home, which was meticulously kept inside and outside. A settlement was planned on Thursday with the property being purchased by well-known residential and commercial property owner Ernie Gerardi. The couple was expected to move to an assisted living facility on Friday.

Berlin Mayor Gee Williams knew the Wrights practically his entire life. He grew up next to their dealership on Old Ocean City Blvd. and has fond memories of them as a child as well as an adult.

“I am proud to say I knew them since I was a kid. Mr. and Mrs. Wright were just as nice as any folks you would ever want to meet,” Williams said. “My first vehicle that Betsy and I ever bought came from Mr. and Mrs. Wright. It’s kind of a misnomer to say they were a ‘childless’ couple. In reality, they knew young people all over this town, and were extremely well thought of by kids. The kids would come into their dealership, and Mr. and Mrs. Wright always embraced them, letting them get in and out of the cars on the lot … The last time I saw them was over the Christmas holidays at the Atlantic Hotel. You could see they were in failing health, but they were very positive, and that’s the way I am going to remember them.”

Rather than focus on the means in which the couple ended their lives, Williams said he will focus in the days and weeks ahead on his many memories of the Wrights while they were alive.

“Personally, as much as I’m hurt by the loss, the way they chose to leave this life is something that’s really between them and God,” Williams said. “None of us can put ourselves in their shoes. We don’t know what physical or psychological issues they were having to deal with. I think we should remember them for the way they lived, rather than the way they died.”

Another friend of the Wrights’ wishing to remain anonymous summed up their deaths this week as “a classic Romeo and Juliet love story.”

 

Berlin Couple Mourned Day After Murder-Suicide

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BERLIN — An elderly couple’s apparent planned murder-suicide shocked many in the Berlin community this week, but many are finding comfort in their memories of the long-time residents.

Early Wednesday morning, around 8, the Berlin Police Department received a call in reference to a shooting. Along with Berlin officers, the Worcester County Bureau of Investigation (WCBI) responded to the scene at 603 Williams Street as well as the Maryland State Police Homicide Unit.

Worcester County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Ed Schreier confirmed at noon on Wednesday that authorities believe the male resident of the house, Lester Wright, 89, shot his wife, Ada, 90, and then attempted to kill himself. Lester Wright was found alive on the scene and was reportedly speaking to first responders before dying a short time later at PRMC in Salisbury.

“They are investigating this as a suspected murder-suicide. A female was shot twice. The male had what appeared to be three self-inflicted gunshot wounds. He was transported to PRMC and died at PRMC. She was found deceased in the residence,” Schreier said. “It’s still currently being investigated.”

Schreier said part of the probe is determining a possible motive for the incident.

“At this point in time, we do not have any of that information,” Schreier said.  “We can’t speculate as to the reason why at this point.”

While the official investigation continues, knowledge sources and acquaintances of the couple are grieving. Many community members hope the couple will be remembered for the lives they lived rather than simply the ending.

Lester Wright, 89, and Ada “Midge” Wright, 90, purchased their Berlin home in 1965, according to land records. Lester Wright was a former auto dealership owner on Old Ocean City Blvd, and Ada “Midge” Wright spent 25 years working at The Moore Companies, a landscaping business based in Berlin off Broad Street.

According to sources close to the Wrights, the couple was in the process of selling their home, which was meticulously kept inside and outside. A settlement was planned on Thursday with the property being purchased by well-known residential and commercial property owner Ernie Gerardi. The couple was expected to move to an assisted living facility on Friday.

Berlin Mayor Gee Williams knew the Wrights practically his entire life. He grew up next to their dealership on Old Ocean City Blvd. and has fond memories of them as a child as well as an adult.

“I am proud to say I knew them since I was a kid. Mr. and Mrs. Wright were just as nice as any folks you would ever want to meet,” Williams said. “My first vehicle that Betsy and I ever bought came from Mr. and Mrs. Wright. It’s kind of a misnomer to say they were a ‘childless’ couple. In reality, they knew young people all over this town, and were extremely well thought of by kids. The kids would come into their dealership, and Mr. and Mrs. Wright always embraced them, letting them get in and out of the cars on the lot … The last time I saw them was over the Christmas holidays at the Atlantic Hotel. You could see they were in failing health, but they were very positive, and that’s the way I am going to remember them.”

Rather than focus on the means in which the couple ended their lives, Williams said he will focus in the days and weeks ahead on his many memories of the Wrights while they were alive.

“Personally, as much as I’m hurt by the loss, the way they chose to leave this life is something that’s really between them and God,” Williams said. “None of us can put ourselves in their shoes. We don’t know what physical or psychological issues they were having to deal with. I think we should remember them for the way they lived, rather than the way they died.”

Another friend of the Wrights’ wishing to remain anonymous summed up their deaths this week as “a classic Romeo and Juliet love story.”

 

Probe Confirms Man Entered Rectory On Fire; Reverend Dies In Church Fire; ‘He Was An Excellent Preacher’

The fire is pictured before first responders arrived. Photo by Michael Lawson

OCEAN CITY — While area residents mourn the loss of a pillar in the religious community, an ongoing investigation has confirmed a man entered an Ocean City church rectory on fire Tuesday morning.
The three-alarm fire at the rectory of the St. Paul’s by the Sea Episcopal Church occurred Tuesday around 9:25 a.m. when Ocean City Communications was alerted to a fire at St. Paul’s by the Sea Episcopal Church, specifically its rectory located along Baltimore Ave. near 3rd Street. Flames were found emanating from the rectory building when crews arrived.
Although authorities continue to probe the blaze and its cause, early indications are foul play was involved on some level and that one of the individuals who died is responsible for the blaze. That much was confirmed by the Ocean City Fire Department investigation on Wednesday in a statement.

The scene on Baltimore Avenue on Tuesday morning is shown. Photo by Chris Parypa

The scene on Baltimore Avenue on Tuesday morning is shown. Photo by Chris Parypa

“The initial investigation determined that the fire originated in the area of the ground floor pantry and porch space of the Shepherd’s Crook facility, which is located in the rectory building.  The exact cause of the fire is still actively under investigation, however; preliminary findings by investigators indicate that John Raymond Sterner, 56, of Ocean City, entered the structure with a significant amount of fire on and about his person, quickly spreading the fire to the structure. Investigators suspect an accelerant was involved in the quick spread of the fire, which claimed the life of Sterner.”
The fire was quickly brought under control, but Sterner was immediately confirmed to be dead. His body was left inside the structure until the fire was extinguished, and paramedics tended to the two victims treated on the scene for life-threatening injuries, one of which was transported to Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center where she remains as of this afternoon. Her identity has not been confirmed.
The other injured victim was the church’s pastor, Rev. David A. Dingwall, who has been with the church since 2005. Dingwall was reportedly in his office on the second floor of the rectory when the fire occurred. He was found unconscious by firefighters and paramedics who reported heavy smoke and heat conditions.
Dingwall was treated on the scene and immediately hospitalized at Atlantic General Hospital. He was in stable condition as of 2:15 p.m., according to the Episcopal Diocese of Easton. However, later in the day, the Episcopal Diocese of Easton released a statement, saying, “It is with great sadness that we share with you that our brother in Christ, the Rev. David Dingwall, has died. Rest eternal grant to him, O Lord, and may light perpetual shine upon him.”
Later, AGH confirmed his death, reporting in a statement, “On behalf of the family, we are authorized to release that Father David Dingwall died this evening with family at his bedside. The family thanks everyone for their prayers and continued respect for their privacy at this time.”
The bodies of Dingwall and Sterner have been transferred to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner for Maryland to determine exact causes of death, according to the city.
The lone survivor, as of Wednesday, was a female. She was seen exiting the rectory and was afire. A nearby witness reportedly helped extinguish the fire on her person. City Hall employees reportedly saw the woman exit the rectory, and grief counseling has reportedly been offered to them, according to a city official.
Police are investigating the matter currently and interviewing people with knowledge of the situation.
Sterner, who has in the past faced a number of criminal charges, ranging from open container and disturbing the peace to assault and burglary, was reportedly a frequent visitor to the Shepherd’s Crook, a food pantry and clothing store that operates out of the ground floor of the rectory and helps the needy and homeless. The fire originated in the Shepherd’s Crook, which was to open at 10 a.m. on Tuesday.
The Fire Marshal’s Office and the Ocean City Police Department’s Criminal Investigation Division are asking anyone with information about the fire to call 410-723-6610.
According to the OCFD, major fire damage was sustained to the rectory, while only minor damage was reported to the church’s worship center and the Red Room Community Center.
“Today was a very tragic day for our community,” said Ocean City Fire Chief Chris Larmore.  “We are thankful for the numerous agencies that assisted us during our response and especially thankful for all of the public safety personnel who helped prevent this fire from claiming more lives.”
A prayer service was held Wednesday, Nov. 27 at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church to offer prayers of comfort, healing and support for the congregation, families, and victims of the tragic fire.
Dingwall’s loss has led to an outpouring of personal reflections on social media sites in the community as well as an online effort at giveforward.com has been initiated to help the church raise money for future expenses associated with the fire.
Ocean City Recreation and Parks Director Tom Shuster, a member of the church, was on the scene of the fire on Tuesday. Shuster is a past senior warden with the church who worked closely with Dingwall on church business.

Connor Braniff is pictured outside the rectory. Photo by Chris Parypa

Connor Braniff is pictured outside the rectory. Photo by Chris Parypa

“To be honest with all that was going through my mind in the aftermath of the fire, it never really dawned on me that he would die. In my mind, I felt he would survive …,” Shuster said.
After appearing at City Hall for a Mayor and Council meeting, Shuster and his wife were at the hospital when Dingwall passed away. He said he was able to speak with Dingwall’s wife, Brenda, and two of their sons.
“We were able to embrace them and give our best wishes after she came out from the room he was in. Our Bishop was there as well so there was a lot of support there for the family. It was truly a shock for all of us,” Shuster said.
The loss was still a stinger for Shuster on Wednesday as he reflected on Dingwall’s professional and personal contributions.
“He worked to connect his family life with his parish life. One of the joys he had was that his son, Ian, was able to join him at church on Sundays, serving as an acolyte … that was a great joy for him to have his son there with him at the worship service.  The congregation enjoyed their interaction,” he said. “Due to my capacity with the church, I got to know him on a behind-the-scenes operational nature with the church. I enjoyed working with him. He was very engaged with his family and coaching his son in soccer down in Snow Hill. He was an excellent preacher. He was very thoughtful man and very enlightening with the way he preached to our parish. He was very, very attentive to members of our community who were sick and ill. He was able to reach out to those people and tended to their needs.”

UPDATED: Fatal Fire In Ocean City Claims Church Reverend; Probe Continues, Details Emerge

The scene today before first responders arrived. Photo by Michael Lawson

OCEAN CITY — A three-alarm fire at a landmark church rectory building is currently being investigated in Ocean City, while area residents mourn the loss of a pillar in their religious community.

Although authorities continue to probe the blaze and its cause, early indications are foul play was involved and that one of the individuals who died is responsible for the blaze.

Early Tuesday, Nov. 26 around 9:25 in the morning, Ocean City Communications was alerted to a fire at St. Paul’s by the Sea Episcopal Church, specifically its rectory located along Baltimore Ave. near 3rd Street. Flames were found emanating from the rectory building when crews arrived.

The fire was quickly brought under control, but one individual was immediately confirmed to be dead. The body was left inside the structure until the fire was extinguished, and paramedics tended to the two victims treated on the scene for life-threatening injuries, one of which was transported to Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center where she remains as of this afternoon. Her identity has not been confirmed.

Sources confirm the other injured victim was the church’s pastor, Rev. David A. Dingwall, who has been with the church since 2005. He was hospitalized at Atlantic General Hospital and in stable condition as of 2:15 p.m., according to the Episcopal Diocese of Easton. However, earlier this evening, the Episcopal Diocese of Easton released a statement, saying, “It is with great sadness that we share with you that our brother in Christ, the Rev. David Dingwall, has died. Rest eternal grant to him, O Lord, and may light perpetual shine upon him.”

Later, AGH confirmed his death, reporting in a statement, “On behalf of the family, we are authorized to release that Father David Dingwall died this evening with family at his bedside. The family thanks everyone for their prayers and continued respect for their privacy at this time.”

As to how the fire began, new information has shed some light on the situation. Multiple sources with knowledge of the fire have reported to The Dispatch that a man entered the rectory of the St. Paul’s By The Sea Episcopal Church this morning prior to the fire breaking out. Although the information is preliminary, reports are the individual was the source of the fire that damaged the rectory, located on Baltimore Avenue near 3rd Street.

The question is whether the local male, who died in the blaze, walked into the rectory already on fire or whether he set himself on fire once inside the building with the help of some sort of flammable liquid, such as lighter fluid or gasoline.

Once inside, the man reportedly had contact with a female, who was later seen exiting the rectory and was on fire. City Hall employees reportedly saw this woman and grief counseling has reportedly been offered to them, according to a city official.

Police are investigating the matter currently and interviewing people with knowledge of the situation.

The man in question is reportedly a frequent visitor to the Shepherd’s Crook, a food pantry and clothing store that operates out of the ground floor of the rectory and helps the needy and homeless. The fire originated in the Shepherd’s Crook, sources maintain.

An undisclosed amount of volunteers were reportedly preparing for today’s 10 a.m.-noon opening when the fire occurred. The “Crook”, as it is known, is located on the ground floor of the parish house, which suffered extensive damage throughout. The church itself was not damaged.

The Fire Marshal’s Office and the Ocean City Police Department’s Criminal Investigation Division are currently investigating the cause of the fire, which is unknown at this time. Anyone with information regarding the fire is asked to contact the Ocean City Police Department at 410-723-6610.

“Today was a very tragic day for our community,” said Ocean City Fire Chief Chris Larmore.  “We are thankful for the numerous agencies that assisted us during our response and especially thankful for all of the public safety personnel who helped prevent this fire from claiming more lives.”

The community is still reeling from this tragedy today, and a prayer service is being planned for tomorrow, Wednesday, Nov. 27 at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church, 10301 Coast Hwy, Ocean City, to offer prayers of comfort, healing and support for the congregation, families, and victims of the tragic fire at St. Paul’s By The Sea Episcopal Church. Prayers will also be offered for the many volunteer fire fighters and others who responded to the crisis. The entire Ocean City community is invited to join in this offering of support for our sisters and brothers at St. Paul’s. Anyone with questions may call the church office at 410-524-7474.

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