A Pennsylvania woman is suing to permanently close a North Wildwood beach where her husband and several other people drowned in the past six years, alleging it’s not just dangerous for swimming but for walking, fishing or any other activity.
The lawsuit is aimed at the Hereford Inlet beach along a seawall and is in addition to an ongoing wrongful-death lawsuit she filed two years ago after her husband drowned in 2012.
“We decided to file a separate lawsuit to get the attention of the city to close this beach down,” attorney Paul D’Amato said during a press conference at his Egg Harbor Township law office Tuesday.
North Wildwood Mayor Patrick Rosenello referred comments to the city’s attorney, Michael Barker, of Linwood, who was not available for comment Tuesday afternoon.
Paul Bradley Smith, 52, of Horsham, Pennsylvania, was walking in the surf at the inlet with his then-7-year-old daughter, Brandy; his friend Scott Sunderland; and Sunderland’s daughter when they lost their footing and slipped into the water.
Smith was able to save Brandy, but he disappeared into the water. Sunderland and his daughter were able to get to safety.
Smith’s wife, Sandra, appeared with her attorneys seeking to close the beach permanently from Surf to Spruce avenues.
In the past, Rosenello has said the area is not protected by lifeguards and is closed to swimming.
D’Amato said there are a few signs in the area that show swimming is prohibited, but they are closer to the seawall and some are faded.
The case was filed this month in Cape May County Superior Court against the city of North Wildwood and New Jersey.
The lawyers hired Richard Weggel, a former official with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, to investigate the area where Smith drowned. Weggel concluded that during low tide, high-velocity areas are created, undermining the sand. He likened it to a trap door.
“In one sense, it’s a predictable event,” Weggel said, because of the shape of the shoreline. “(But) it’s really unpredictable, because you don’t know exactly what time it’s going to happen.”
Weggel said, in his opinion, “you need to close the beach.”
After the press conference, Sandra Smith said she was surprised to learn many other people had been swept into the water in that area, including the 2009 drowning of 28-year-old Jamilah Watkins and 15-year-old Shayne Hart.
Domonique McNeil, now 20, of Cape May Court House, was with Watkins and Hart that day and survived the incident. She attended the press conference Tuesday with Hart’s mother, Tasha.
McNeil said Watkins and Hart, who was in town visiting family, were walking along the beach when they were pulled into the water, similar to what happened to Smith’s family.
Smith said she hasn’t been back to North Wildwood since her husband’s body was recovered three days after he drowned. She said she fears every summer hearing about a drowning there.
In 2015, after a teen from Pennsylvania drowned in the inlet, Smith renewed her call for the beach to be closed.