Lawsuit hopes to close ‘deadly’ section of N. Wildwood beach
Aerial photo of Hereford Inlet provided by the D’Amato Law Firm shows the section of Hereford Inlet where the beach drops off.
A woman whose husband drowned off North Wildwood in 2012 has filed a suit hoping to bar the city from allowing public access to the beach where it happened. Sandy Smith doesn’t want to have anyone else die the way her husband did after he fell into the water from where the beach drops off in a section of Hereford Inlet. This is not just about swimming at the beach, but the danger of walking along the shallow water. The water was about calf-deep as George Bradley Smith — known to his family as Brad — and his 7-year-old daughter walked with friend Scott Sunderland and two of his children on July 27, 2012. But as he took one step, there was no sand, only water, Sunderland recalled during a press conference announcing the lawsuit Tuesday. They went from a leisurely walk with his daughter on his shoulders to swimming for their lives, he recalled. It was similar to a story told by Domonique McNeil told of walking along the same area three years later. “To me, it felt like a trap door,” the 20-year-old said. “Like a false bottom.” She was able to get to shore, but her 15-year-old cousin, Shayne Hart, drowned. A week later, they found her aunt, Jamila Watkins, who had brought the family together to celebrate her 28th birthday the day before. The problem has been one for at least a decade, North Wildwood Beach Patrol Chief Tony Cavalier said during his deposition in the case, according to the court filing. “If someone is walking, and they encounter the drop off, how far will they step down?” he was asked. “Over their head,” Cavalier replied. Also in that area is a whirlpool or vortex effect. Professor Richard Weggel explained what happens and said he would not have anyone he cared about walking in that area. There are two signs there: one warns the beach is not protected. The other, shows a drawing of a swimmer with a line through it. “The signs do absolutely nothing to tell people not to walk along the water,” Weggel said. With the lawsuit, Sandy Smith hopes people won’t be able to walk in that section, which would include only about 15 percent of the three-mile section. Attorney Paul D’Amato believes it’s the first suit of its kind. A hearing for an injunction to block access to that area is set for Nov. 9 before Superior Court Judge Julio Menendez in Atlantic County Superior Court in Atlantic City. The suit is separate from a wrongful death one previously filed. Brandy Smith, now 12, still suffers from the ordeal. “She can finally talk about her father now,” Sandy Smith said. Her last image of her father was him being pulled away by the current. “He was calling her name,” her mother said, crying. “He never would have left her.”