After-Hours Drownings Big Problem at Jersey Shore

Article excerpt

LONG BRANCH, N.J. --

The lifeguards had gone home, but the sun was still strong, the temperature was still high and the three 17-year-olds from northwestern New Jersey still wanted to swim.

So Craig Szot, Michelle Hennelly and Kevin Reidinger ran into the surf, splashing one another, mugging in goofy poses and chasing one another in the shallow waves, just beyond a tipped-over lifeguard chair that read, "No Swimming, Lifeguard Off Duty."

It was about a week after the bodies of two victims were recovered at the Jersey shore, the last of five drowning victims so far this year. They ranged from a 10-year-old swimming with his family in Atlantic City to a 24-year-old Kenyan who died as four others he was swimming with were rescued from a rip current in Bradley Beach.

Authorities say all five deaths had one thing in common: They occurred when no lifeguards were on duty.

But at the unguarded Long Branch beach, the three teens from Long Valley were unconcerned.

"I'm not worried," Szot said. "I think I have enough swimming experience to be OK."

"I don't think anything bad will happen to us," Reidinger added.

After-hours drownings have long been a problem at the Jersey shore, but the situation is particularly bad so far this year. Lifeguards and shore mayors agree there are no easy or cheap solutions.

Joe Bongiovanni, Asbury Park's beach safety supervisor, says people will keep dying at the shore without some serious deterrents. He wants New Jersey to pass a law imposing stiff fines for anyone caught swimming after lifeguards have gone home. He made the suggestion the day authorities recovered the body of Chazmin Mills of Irvington, who vanished in the surf as his younger sister was saved by rescuers who had raced back to the beach shortly after it had closed for the day.

"We fine people for talking on their cellphones while driving or texting while driving for their own good," Mr. Bongiovanni said. "This is something else we should be doing. Let them know it is breaking the law, with a hefty fine, and the word will get around."

There are several reasons people venture into the waves in the evening. In some instances, the weather remained scorchingly hot even after dinner, and people were seeking relief.

Another reason is to avoid beach badge fees of $5 to $8 at many New Jersey beaches. …