Judge won’t close N.J. beach where 3 drowned after sand gave way

    Beaches along the Hereford Inlet in North Wildwood. (Google image)

    Beaches along the Hereford Inlet in North Wildwood. (Google image)

    A New Jersey judge is refusing to order the closure of a beach where three people died when the sand gave way beneath them as they walked near the water’s edge.

    In a ruling issued Monday, Superior Court Judge Julio Mendez instead directed state and local officials to evaluate safety concerns at the Hereford Inlet beach in North Wildwood.

    He dismissed a request from the family of Brad Smith, who died in a July 2012 accident, to immediately order the beach closed. Smith was swept out to sea when the sand collapsed underneath him at the beach. 

    Someone on a personal watercraft rescued his daughter, who was held above the waves by her father before he drowned. Two others drowned at the beach in 2009.

    In court papers filed in January, the Cape May County municipality acknowledged the tragedy but asserted that Smith’s family will never go back there; that closing the beach would ruin things for others who still want to go there, and that the unstable sand condition that claimed his life is part of nature and not something the town is obligated to fix.

    Late last year, Smith family lawyer Paul D’Amato said that the town was negligent in its supervision of a public recreational facility.

    A court filing stated that there is “a real and certain substantial potential of injury and/or death to anyone who walks, fishes, wades, or swims at the stretch of beach between roughly north of 1st Avenue and Surf Avenue through Spruce Avenue. “

    Coastal engineer J. Richard Weggel has previously said the beach is dangerous. 

    “The dangerous slope conditions are below the water line and are not visible to pedestrians walking on the beach,” he said. “Furthermore, they are not generally predictable, although they probably occur most frequently during ebb current flows in the inlet.”

    The judge directed the state Department of Environmental Protection and North Wildwood to take “prompt and timely action” to address safety concerns at the beach.

    D’Amato says the ruling endangers future beachgoers.

    In a release issued after the court’s decision, Mayor Patrick Rosenello said all beach visitors should be aware of all warning signs on the beach. 

    “The city will be forever sympathetic toward the Smith Family for the tragic loss of Bradley Smith,” Rosenello said. “And, while the city is satisfied with the court’s decision, I advise all beachgoers to pay attention to warning signage, and if a lifeguard is not on duty, do not go in the water.”

    —————————————————————–

    The Associated Press contributed to this report.

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.