Highs, Lows Of Another Summer Season

OCEAN CITY – The arrival of another Labor Day weekend signals the symbolic end to another summer in the resort and provides the perfect opportunity to reflect on some of the top stories that captured the attention of residents and visitors alike since a new season dawned back on Memorial Day just a few short months ago.

As is the case in most years, the summer of 2007 had its share of good news, bad news and simply tragic news in equal doses. The summer of 2007 was certainly blessed for the most part with hot and sunny weather, crowds, ringing cash registers and visitors by the millions.

And as in most years, there was more than enough bad news to go around this summer. There was a young pedestrian fatality early in June, but, thankfully, it proved to be the only one of the summer season. There seemed to be an upswing in violent crime with an increase in arrests involving guns, knives and other weapons, including a double stabbing just two weeks ago, but there were no murders reported, save of course the one doozy of a murder case involving a local woman and the death of a newborn child that rocked Ocean City to its core and shined an unflattering national spotlight on the resort for a few days in late July and early August.

As usual, the sea was responsible for its share of tragedy in the resort area claiming a 19-year-old drowning victim in June and taking a father trying to save his two young children caught in a rip current in late July.

Ocean City officials always point out that out of the millions of people that visit the resort over the course of a summer, all but a handful go home safe and happy, and that was the case again this year for the most part. Unfortunately, the summer of 2007 will also be remembered for the handful of visitors who did not return safely to their homes, and the families they left behind.

All in all it was a bright and happy summer for most with a few unfortunate exceptions. The following is a brief glance at all that was good in the summer of 2007, along with a lot of the bad and some of the downright ugly.

The Good 

Ocean City’s Record On Beach Water Quality

In the first week of June, federal EPA officials were in the resort to present the town of Ocean City with a check for nearly $270,000 for a grant through the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) for the continuation of a water quality monitoring program which began in 2000.

Federal officials were glad to point out in the seven years since the mandated water quality testing program began on the beaches of Ocean City, the resort has had a perfect record in terms of advisories and closures. In 2000, the federal government passed the BEACH (Beaches Environmental Assessment and Coastal Health) Act to mandate frequent water quality monitoring to ensure the natural waters enjoyed by billions of swimmers across the country each summer are protected from potentially harmful levels of bacteria and other contaminants.

Wounded Soldiers Visit Resort

Wounded U.S. soldiers from the deserts of the Middle East got to put their feet in more friendly sand in June when they were treated to a three-day stay in Ocean City courtesy of the Veterans of Foreign War (VFW) and their Ladies’ Auxilliary.

Fifty-one wounded veterans from the Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington, along with their families, were in Ocean City in June to enjoy a brief reprieve in the sun. About 120 visitors, including some nurses from the hospital, enjoyed three days and two nights in the resort thanks in large part to the contributions of the VFW and its Ladies Auxilliary, which raised about $26,000 to send the soldiers and their families on the brief vacation.

The Princess Bayside hosted the wounded soldiers and their families, who were also treated to a day of fun and a buffet at Seacrets nearby. The town of Ocean City responded with goodie bags from the visitors.

Deer Rescued After Rampage in OC

In mid-June, an obviously lost and frightened deer went on a rampage of sorts up and down the Boardwalk and throughout the downtown area including crashing through a Boardwalk restaurant window, but the story had a happy ending when the tranquilized animal was later safely returned to the woods near Berlin.

On June 13, the deer was first spotted near Dorchester Street, and for an hour and a half, Ocean City police and animal control officers attempted to sedate the animal using a tranquilizer gun. They were successful in getting one dart in the deer, but the animal dashed down the Boardwalk, out onto the beach and through the downtown area. The deer was shot with a second tranquilizer around 10th Street and again dashed down the Boardwalk before it finally crashed through a window at DaVinci’s Restaurant.

The deer was then sedated and after it became unconscious, it was carefully loaded into a pick-up truck by concerned citizens and police officers. It was taken to the woods near Berlin and released back into the wild after it was revived.

OCPD Officer Named One of Nation’s Top Cops

In July, one of Ocean City’s finest was recognized as one of the top cops in the country when the national American Legion named him first runner-up for its annual National Law Enforcement Officer of the Year award.

Veteran OCPD Corporal Sydney Findley last year was nominated by his colleagues in the department for the honor of American Legion Department of Maryland 2006 Law Officer of the Year. In January, Findley was notified he had won the Legion’s top honor in Maryland.

Findley’s nomination packet was then forwarded to the American Legion’s national organization for consideration as National Law Enforcement Officer of the Year and the OCPD corporal was selected as one of four regional winners competing for the national title. Findley was notified in May he was selected as one of the four national regional finalists.

In July, during the state’s American Legion annual convention in Ocean City, Findley was honored as runner-up for the title of National Law Enforcement Officer of the Year. The award recognizes law enforcement officers who have “selflessly distinguished themselves over and above their normal duties, predominantly through community service activities and professional achievement.

Berlin Little League Nearly Wins State Title

After five tension-filled games in five days, the Berlin Little League 9-10 All Stars finally ran out of gas and fell to Conococheague, 13-3, in the state championship game in Cambridge on July 23.

Berlin’s 9-10 All-Stars won the District 8 championship the week before to advance to the state tournament for the first time in several years. For five days in late July, the Berlin Little Leaguers embarked on a wild five-game journey that left them on the doorstep of a state title, but the tank was nearly empty at that point and the team fell in the title game. The loss did little to tarnish what was a memorable season for the local team.

White Marlin Open Staying Put for Foreseeable Future

Persistent rumors the annual White Marlin Open, which is one of the highlights of the summer season in Ocean City, would soon be moved to a venue outside the resort were put to rest for the time being in late July when event organizers announced they had renewed the lease to stay put at Harbour Island through 2010 and likely beyond.

Rumors have persisted for years the annual White Marlin Open, which just completed its 34th year, would one day move to a new location likely somewhere in West Ocean City where big venues such as Sunset Marina and the Ocean City Fishing Center could more readily accommodate the event. However, with his lease at Harbour Island set to expire this year, tournament director Jim Motsko recently reached a new agreement with the community to keep the tournament there at least through 2010.

The Bad

Boyfriend Nearly Kills Girlfriend

A Salisbury man was arrested on attempted murder charges in Ocean City just before Memorial Day weekend after holding his long-time girlfriend against her will for hours and strangling her several times to the point she lost consciousness.

The victim flagged down an off-duty Ocean City volunteer firefighter and told him she had been assaulted and needed medical attention. According to police reports, the victim told the firefighter she felt she was going to go unconscious and needed an ambulance immediately. At that point, the firefighter took the victim to the fire station to receive medical attention from paramedics.

The victim later told police her boyfriend of 20 years, Howard Caltrider, 45, of Salisbury, held her against her will for over three hours and strangled her so severely it caused her to lose consciousness. The victim told police that during an altercation earlier in the day, Caltrider told her he was going to beat her, torture her and then he was going to kill her.

The victim told police that during her ordeal, she was sure she was going to die regardless of whether she stayed or got caught trying to escape. Finally, she was able to escape after three hours when Caltrider became distracted briefly. Caltrider was arrested a short time later and charged with attempted second-degree murder, first- and second-degree assault, reckless endangerment and malicious destruction of property. His trial is set for Oct. 4.

Local Man Robbed After Accepting A Ride

In early June, a local man was robbed at knifepoint after accepting a ride home from an acquaintance after leaving a downtown bar.

On June 3, resort police responded to a reported armed robbery at a downtown bar on Somerset Street. The investigation revealed the victim had left the Harbor Inn shortly after midnight, and while he was walking through a nearby parking lot, he was offered a ride home by a woman he knew as an employee of the bar.

The victim and his acquaintance got into her vehicle, the woman’s boyfriend, who was hiding in the back seat, sat up and put a knife to the victim’s throat. The victim handed his wallet to the man, later identified as William Cloutier, 28, of Ocean City, who was the boyfriend of the woman who had offered the ride.

The OCPD detectives later located Cloutier at his home on 32nd Street in Ocean City. He was taken into custody and charged with second-degree assault, robbery and misdemeanor theft. His trial is set for Nov. 6.

Robbed, Beaten, Left Unconscious

A 26-year-old New Jersey man was robbed, beaten and thrown into some bushes along 94th Street in mid-June after allegedly accepting a ride to a party from his attackers.

Ocean City Police were called to the area of Mediterranean Drive and 94th Street in the early morning hours on June 17 to investigate a report of an unconscious man lying on the sidewalk. The investigating officers discovered Daniel Connelly, 26, of Brooklawn, N.J. passed out with dried blood on his face, neck and clothing.

After the officers were able to revive Connelly, who was reportedly intoxicated, they discovered he had been the victim of an armed robbery. Connelly told police he was at a mid-town nightclub earlier that night when he met four men. They offered to take him to a party and he accepted the ride.

The victim told police the ride he accepted took hjm to the bayside area of 94th Street where 10 men had now gathered. The group told Connelly it was the location of the party they had told him about. Two of the men then displayed switchblade knives and demanded Connelly’s money. The victim was able to briefly escape the vehicle and ran from the car, but was caught by the two men with switchblades.

The suspects, later identified as Gerrel Kess, 17 of Glen Burnie, and Tyrone Mann, 21, of Pasadena, went through Connelly’s pockets, taking his cell phone and cash from his wallet. Kess and Mann then beat the victim and threw him in the bushes.

Kess has a court date scheduled for November 6, while Mann is scheduled for arraignment on Sept. 12.

Brothers Arrested In Double Stabbing

Two brothers were arrested and charged with attempted murder on August 20 after allegedly stabbing two men during an altercation in front of an Ocean City hotel.

Around 2:15 a.m. on August 20, an Ocean City Police officer on routine patrol was flagged down by two security officers at the Princess Bayside Hotel in reference to two stabbing victims lying on the pavement near the facility’s front door.  Upon arrival on the scene, the officer observed to two stabbed men and identified them as Walter Ostrowski, 21, of Baltimore, and Steven Hutchins, 26, of Dundalk. Ostrowski was sitting and Hutchins was lying on the ground. Hutchins shorts and shirt were covered in blood and it was obvious he was suffering from a stab wound to the chest.

Ostrowski had been stabbed four times in the back with one of the stab wounds over his spinal cord. The officer put out a description of the suspects provided by witnesses and they were apprehended a short time later walking through the parking lot at 45th Street Village.

The suspects were identified as brothers Joseph Hill, 26, of Laurel, Md., and Christopher Hill, 29, of Jessup, Md. Also with the suspects was their sister, Stephanie Hill.

The investigation revealed the Hills had approached a group of people at a nearby bus stop and asked for a cigarette before a fight broke out between the two brothers and Hutchins and Ostrowski, who were both stabbed in the altercation.

Joseph Hill has been charged with two counts of attempted second-degree murder, two counts each of first- and second-degree assault, reckless endangerment, and carrying a deadly weapon with intent to injure. Christopher Hill has been charged with attempted second-degree murder, first-degree assault and second-degree assault.

The Ugly

Bicyclist Killed On Route 50 Bridge

In the first week of June, a bicyclist was struck near the western end of the Harry Kelley Memorial Bridge and later died of injuries sustained in the collision.

The bicyclist, whose name was not released, was struck by an SUV after apparently darting out in front of the vehicle driven by a man from Ocean Ridge, Fla. The victim was transported to PRMC in Salisbury and was originally listed in serious condition, but later died from injuries sustained in the accident. The fatality was the first of the summer season in the resort and ironically occurred just three days before a scheduled public workshop on the future of the bridge.

First Drowning Victim Found On Assateague

The waters off the coast of Ocean City claimed their first victim of the season on June 17 when a 19-year-old Lanham, Md. man drowned around 31st Street after getting swept under by a rip current.

The victim, Lijpaul Headly, 19, of Lanham, was swimming in the ocean with his brother and a cousin on Sunday, June 17, when the trio – all non-swimmers – were caught in a rip current. The brother and the cousin were rescued by the Ocean City Beach Patrol, but Headly was swept under and was not recovered. The OCPD, the Coast Guard and Maryland Natural Resources Police as well as a Maryland State Police helicopter carried out an extensive search of the area, but Headly was never found. His body washed up in the surf at Assateague nearly a week later.

Pedestrian Fatality In Resort

A 21-year-old Easton man critically injured when struck by a car on Coastal Highway in the early morning hours on June 17 died two days later at Shock Trauma in Baltimore, becoming the first pedestrian fatality in the resort in 2007.

Tyler Adams, 21, of Easton, and a friend, Dale Blankenship, 21, also of Easton, ran across Coastal Highway between 32nd and 33rd streets from east to west around 1:45 a.m. on June 17 when they were struck by a southbound vehicle.

Blankenship was struck in the foot by the vehicle and received only minor injuries. He was treated at the scene. Adams was struck head-on by the front of the vehicle and was launched over the vehicle according to police reports and witness testimony. He was transported to PRMC in Salisbury and later transferred to Shock Trauma in Baltimore, where he died two days later. The driver was given a mandatory breath test because of the nature of the injuries, but was not legally drunk and was not charged in the case.

Two Killed In Holiday Accident

An otherwise fairly safe and calm Fourth of July was marred with the traffic deaths of two Pennsylvania men in an early morning two-vehicle accident on Route 50 just west of Berlin near the Worcester-Wicomico County line.

Around 4 a.m. on July 4, troopers from the Maryland State Police responded to a serious motor vehicle accident on the eastbound side of Route 50 at Hall Rd. near the county line. The preliminary investigation revealed a 1990 Honda Civic was traveling east on Route 50 when it left the roadway and struck a tree in the median, ejecting Joseph Costlow, 20, of Waynesboro, Pa.

A second vehicle, a 2006 Ford Escape driven by Joshua Croteau, 19, also of Waynesboro, Pa. was traveling east on Route 50 when it struck Costlow, who had come to rest in the travel portion of the highway after being ejected from the Honda in the initial collision. Another occupant later identified as Nathaniel Kesserling, 21, of Waynesboro, was found in the rear seat of the Honda. Costlow and Kesserling were pronounced dead at the scene.

Father Dies Trying To Rescue Kids

Tragedy struck again in July when a Fruitland man died in the ocean near the Inlet while attempting to save his two young sons caught in a rip current.

On Sunday, July 22, Renald Charles, 38, of Fruitland, went into the ocean near the Inlet in an attempt to rescue his two sons, ages 10 and 13, who had become distressed in the water. The father and two sons, now caught in a rip current, drifted around the north jetty and headed toward the Inlet.

Witnesses on a nearby parasailing boat saw the three distresses swimmers waving their arms and came to assist them. They were able to pull the two children on board, but an attempt to save the father, now unconscious, was not successful. The Coast Guard arrived minutes later and pulled the unconscious father from the water. He was first taken to the Coast Guard station and later transported to Atlantic General Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Gruesome Discovery Puts OC In National Spotlight

In late July, the owner of a local cab company was charged with murder after police discovered the remains of her recently stillborn fetus wrapped in a towel under the bathroom sink in her Ocean City home, touching off a wild three or four days during which three more fetuses were found stored in and around her residence.

The incident touched off a major national media blitz in the resort at the height of the tourist season as cadaver dogs and FBI investigators working with the local police continued to search the home and eventually excavated a vacant lot adjacent to it searching for more remains. Most of the major national media outlets set up shop in Ocean City as helicopters circled overhead.

Prosecutors initially charged Christy Freeman, 37, of Ocean City with first-degree murder for the death of her stillborn child on July 27, but later dropped those charges and applied first degree murder charges against Freeman for the death of a full-term or near full-term infant, a twin, born sometime in 2004 and stored by the mother in a trunk in her bedroom.

Freeman essentially confessed to killing the infant in 2004 during an interview with an OCPD detective following her arrest on the initial charges. She remains behind bars awaiting a preliminary appearance while the legal posturing by the both prosecutors and her defense team continues in earnest.