A lifeguard at a beach in New Jersey where three people died when the sand collapsed under their feet as they walked along the shoreline said a year after the most recent death that “we know it’s going to happen again.”
North Wildwood lifeguard Lt. David Lindsay made the admission in a secretly recorded conversation played in court Friday as a judge weighed whether to dismiss a lawsuit concerning one of the deaths.
The city and state want Superior Court Judge John Porto to dismiss the lawsuit from the family of Brad Smith, of Horhsam, Pennsylvania, who died in July 2012. Porto said he will decide within three weeks whether the case should be sent to a jury.
Smith was walking in ankle-deep water at the beach with his daughter when the sand collapsed, plunging them and a friend into the swirling waters. A passer-by on a personal watercraft rescued the girl, who was being held above the waves by her father before he drowned.
Three years earlier, Jamila Watkins and 15-year-old Shayne Hart were walking along the water’s edge when the sand gave way beneath them, plunging them into the swirling waters of the inlet, killing both of them.
On Friday, Paul D’Amato, a lawyer for Smith’s widow Sandra, played a recoding secretly made of Lindsay, the lifeguard squad lieutenant, about a year after Smith’s death.
“As the beach patrol, we know it’s going to happen again,” he said on the recording, which was made in July 2013.
Smith’s family is suing the city and state, alleging negligent supervision. They claim that while North Wildwood placed signs near the beach entrance warning of dangerous currents, no one warned beachgoers the simple act of walking along the water’s edge could be dangerous or even fatal.
“There was no warning whatsoever,” D’Amato said. “We have a woman living without her husband and children living without their father. North Wildwood is responsible.”
Not so, counters Michael Barker, a lawyer for the Jersey shore town, a popular summer destination for vacationers from the Philadelphia region. He told the judge the lawsuit should be dismissed as a matter of law because the land in question is unimproved land, and governments cannot be sued for injuries that occur on property that the town did nothing to alter from its natural condition.
“There’s nothing there other than tideland, sea water, current, tides – all natural characteristics,” Barker said. “Inlets are dangerous. Slopes, gullies, holes: all these things can go on in an inlet.”
In evidence Smith’s family wants to present to a jury, North Wildwood lifeguard supervisors assert in depositions that conditions at the beach in question have been known to be dangerous for more than a decade, and that lifeguards routinely have to rescue people from the inlet waters.
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