Ocean City’s Tragic May Puts Renewed Focus On Safety Ahead Of Summer Season

Ocean City’s Tragic May Puts Renewed Focus On Safety Ahead Of Summer Season
accident 28th street IMG 6824 05 19 2016

OCEAN CITY — With two fatalities in the span of three days last week and three in the month of May, if ever the start of a season needed a mulligan, this appears to be it, but there is plenty of time for residents and visitors to take a pause, collect their breath and remember to practice the oft-echoed common sense approach to avoiding tragedy.

Memorial Day weekend has arrived, and despite the gray, cool, rainy weeks that preceded it, the early forecast is summer-like and more typical for the holiday weekend. The month of May has been far from typical thus far, however, with three tragedies including a fatal motorcycle collision with a vehicle last Thursday afternoon followed by a fatal fall from a hotel balcony on Saturday night.

On May 4, a pedestrian was struck and killed by a police vehicle while crossing Coastal Highway against a pedestrian signal at 94th Street. Back on March 14, a worker fell to his death from the fourth floor of a building under construction at 25th Street, the first of four reported fatalities in the resort this spring. However, there is no connection between the rash of fatalities, other than the unfortunate truth that each was preventable, and Ocean City is not suddenly a more dangerous place.

There have been rashes of serious and fatal incidents in the past and there is often no rhyme or reason for a pattern. In some cases, a run of serious and tragic incidents has precipitated a call to action, such as a spate of fatal pedestrian collisions along Coastal Highway that caused the town and its partners to ramp up its safety campaign with improvements along the roadway including increased signage, more and better equipped crosswalks and an aggressive public service campaign.

In other years, the resort has seen a spike in drowning deaths in the ocean, typically after hours when the Ocean City Beach Patrol is not in the stands, forcing another aggressive public safety campaign hammering home the message “keep your feet in the sand until the guards are in the stand,” for example.

Ocean City invests considerable resources and manpower in public safety and it remains a top priority for the resort. Despite the vast resources thrown at the problem, its success relies heavily on common sense from the residents, and particularly the visitors, many of whom check their common sense at the door when they arrive on vacation.

With three fatalities in May and a couple of near misses, including two swimmers rescued from an unattended beach earlier this month, Ocean City and its residents are taking the losses hard and searching for answers, but again, each was preventable and could have been avoided with a little dose of common sense. However, those reassurances don’t make it hurt any less for all involved, directly or indirectly.

“This has been one of the most traumatic months that I can recall and the various incidents that we have seen in the last several weeks have not only been heartbreaking but avoidable,” said Ocean City Communications Director Jessica Waters this week. “When we have a visitor who comes to Ocean City and doesn’t return home, it affects us all to our core.”

Waters said the resort’s top priority is public safety, and again, despite the vast resources directed at it, for everything to work as planned and expected, the success of the various campaigns require an equal commitment from the visitors and residents.

“We make a living creating a safe and happy vacation destination for our visitors, so when a family experiences anything other than great joy and happiness during their stay, we feel in some way we have failed them,” she said. “No matter how much we do, we also need our visitors to put safety at the top of their list during their stay in Ocean City and pay close attention to their surroundings, specifically when walking or driving on Coastal Highway. The Town of Ocean City will stay dedicated to making our city and roadways safe and we ask for the same commitment from our visitors.”

Mayor Rick Meehan agreed and continued to hammer home the public safety message.

“We want our visitors to arrive safe, stay safe while they are here and return home safe,” said Meehan. “There is a lot to see and do in Ocean City, but there is nothing more important than taking the time to Walk Smart, Drive Smart and Bike Smart.”

Meehan said tragedy is most often sudden and life-changing and reiterated the importance of common sense and following the rules.

“If there is anything we can learn from the terrible incidents that we have seen over the last several weeks, it’s that a life can change in a quick second,” he said. “There is nothing more important than taking a few extra steps to cross in a crosswalk, to wait a few minutes and cross with the light or to keep your eyes on the road at all times. We know our visitors come here to have a carefree stay, and we want that too, but not at the expense of someone’s safety. Safety must always come first.”

Life can change in an instant as the mayor stated and the tragic incidents during the month of May only illustrate the point. Around 7:20 p.m. last Saturday, Ocean City Police responded to the Stowaway Grand Hotel at 21st Street to assist Ocean City EMS after an individual fell from an eighth-floor balcony on the south side of the building. Ocean City paramedics determined the victim, Jordan M. Hess, 29, of Chambersburg, Pa., was deceased shortly after their arrival on the scene.

The OCPD Criminal Investigation Division continues to investigate the fatal fall although preliminarily, the incident appears to be accidental. The cause and manner of death will be determined by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Baltimore.

At 12:08 p.m. last Thursday, a motorcycle traveling north on Coastal Highway at speeds estimated at around 100 miles per hour collided with a Ford F-350 pick-up truck attempting to make a right turn onto 28th Street. The motorcycle driver, later identified as Eric Del Marr, 24, of Germantown, Md., was deceased up the arrival of first responders. The driver of the pick-up, a 19-year-old North Beach, Md. man, was not injured in the collision.

It was later determined after making a U-turn at 56th Street, Del Marr traveled southbound on Coastal Highway until 33rd Street, where he briefly turned west and then re-entered Coastal Highway at 32nd Street. Del Marr then made a U-turn at 23rd Street and traveled north on Coastal Highway at a high rate of speed before colliding with the pick-up truck at 28th Street.

A 67-year-old Pennsylvania man was struck and killed by an Ocean City Police vehicle on May 3 while crossing Coastal Highway against a pedestrian signal at 94th Street.

The Maryland State Police Crash Team is investigating the pedestrian collision that took place around 1:11 a.m. on Tuesday, May 3 at the intersection of 94th Street and Coastal Highway. The pedestrian was struck by a marked Ocean City Police Chevy Tahoe patrol vehicle driven by an on-duty, five-year veteran.

The pedestrian, 67-year-old Jeffrey Yale Delong of Kutztown, Pa., was crossing Coastal Highway from east to west in the north crosswalk against the pedestrian signal when he was struck by the police vehicle. The officer was traveling southbound on Coastal Highway on routine patrol at the time of the incident. The victim was transported by Ocean City EMS to Atlantic General Hospital where he was pronounced deceased. The officer involved was Officer Xeniya Patterson. She did not suffer any injuries as a result of the collision and will be on paid administrative leave pending an internal investigation as part of the department’s protocol.

Although it occurred months earlier, a construction worker’s fatal fall from a building in March only added to the sad litany of events already this spring. Around 8:40 a.m. on March 14, Ocean City Police and EMS responded to a construction site at Philadelphia Ave. and 25th Street for a reported fall. Upon arrival, EMS personnel confirmed an unidentified individual, a 38-year-old male who was a worker on the site, was deceased.

The victim, later identified as Sergio Francisco, 38, of Salisbury, fell from the 4th story of the building under construction while he was working. Detectives from the OCPD Criminal Investigation Division Major Crimes Unit conducted an investigation on the scene. In addition, Maryland Occupational Safety and Health (OSHA) officials are also conducted an investigation. Investigators have since determined the fall was accidental.

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.