Common sense was absent virtue

30 Jul 2004 | Lance Cpl. Andrew D. Pomykal

Naval Criminal Investigative Service agents are looking into the drowning of a male Marine late Saturday night off Onslow Beach. Alcohol was involved, according to the case's chief investigator. Onslow Beach Lifeguards were off-duty at the time of the incident. The victim's identity is being withheld.

In 2000, there were 3,281 unintentional drownings in the United States, averaging nine people per day, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. This does not include drownings in boating-related incidents. Males accounted for 78 percent of drownings in the United States in 2001. Alcohol use is involved in 25 to 50 percent of adolescent and adult deaths associated with water recreation. Alcohol influences balance, coordination and judgment, and its effects are heightened by sun exposure and heat.

"Beach going is all about common sense," said Sgt. Charles D. Reise, 24, of Crete, Neb. The first year lifeguard considers the staff fortunate to have only responded to swimmers with sunburn, jellyfish stings and a wayward child or two.

The Onslow Beach Detachment is comprised of 22 active-duty Marines certified as American Red Cross lifeguards. During the summer season - Memorial thru Labor Day - they work a rotating schedule - two days on, two off - manning the beach daily from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. Along with the guards are 20 other Marines tasked with general maintenance and cleaning tasks.

Regarding the lost child incident, Sgt. Joshua L. Willis, 29, of Humboldt, Tenn., the detachment leader said, "The parents were at fault for that one. That was a bad day. We had more than fifty people looking for a four year old boy that just wandered down the beach." Luckily, the ending was a happy one after the toddler was returned to his distraught parents.

"Our biggest problems out here include folks not paying attention to their children and the warning signs and flags," said Reise, who listed occasional rip currents, undertow and seasonal thunderstorms with lightening as dangerous. "People really need to watch the weather closely this time of year and heed our advice to clear the beach once a storm approaches."

Willis noted that while beach goers are allowed to use charcoal grills on Onslow Beach, they neglect to properly dispose of hot briquettes. "Water them down and find a trash can," he advised. "Don't just bury them in the sand for someone to step on."

Another common sense violation is glass bottles on the beach. "That's a definite no-go," said Reise. "Same for pets."

Additionally, Willis warned that fishermen and surfers should stay clear of designated swimming areas.

It's not all police duty and rules enforcement for the beach staff whose inherent responsibilities employ them on the scenic shore.

"This is my first duty and I'm enjoying every minute of it," exclaimed rookie lifeguard and Private First Class Matthew R. Archik, 18, of Meriden, Conn. He's a petroleum specialist assigned to Bulk Fuel Company, 8th Engineer Support Battalion, 2d Force Service Support Group and has admittedly enjoyed the respite from his normal function.

While the majority of the beach detachment staff are nearing the end of their service obligation, the remainder such as Reise and Willis, both of who spent time in Kuwait supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom last year as motor transportation drivers, will return to their units and possible re-deployment.

The summer season is half gone, but don't fret, there are plenty of sunny days and white-capped surf on Onslow Beach to enjoy until temperatures drop mid-October. To ensure patron safety, the Marine lifeguards remain vigilant until the detachment stands down after the Labor Day holiday.

For information on current weather and surf conditions on Onslow Beach, call 451-7247. 



American Red Cross general water safety tips:

Learn to swim. The best thing anyone can do to stay safe in and around the water is to learn to swim.

Always swim with a buddy; never swim alone.

Swim in supervised areas only.

Obey all rules and posted signs.

Watch out for the "dangerous too's"--too tired, too cold, too far from safety, too much sun, too much strenuous activity.

Don't mix alcohol and swimming. Alcohol impairs your judgment, balance, and coordination, affects your swimming and diving skills, and reduces your body's ability to stay warm.

Pay attention to local weather conditions and forecasts. Stop swimming at the first indication of bad weather.

Know how to prevent, recognize, and respond to emergencies.

ARC top 10 safety tips for ocean swimming:

Ask lifeguard about water conditions.

Swim in an area monitored by lifeguards and obey all signal flags.

Red flags = dangerous water.

Always swim in groups and avoid secluded nude beaches.

Know basic water safety, and how to avoid and survive dangerous situations like rip currents.

Be aware of the tidal cycles and marine life in the area in which you are swimming.

Avoid the water at night, dawn or dusk.

Avoid wearing shiny jewelry in the water.

Don't swim in waters being fished or around fishing piers.

Don't dive. Go feet first.

Know your swimming ability and stay close to shore.

Swim with care near sandbars or steep drop-offs.

Never leave children unattended.


Protect your skin and eyes. A wide-brimmed hat and quality sunglasses are smart beach gear.

Drink plenty of water regularly (avoid caffeine and alcohol which dehydrate).

Watch for signs of heat stroke

Wear foot protection to prevent hot sand burns and cuts from buried glass.

Prevent Drowning

For every child who drowns, three receive emergency department care for non-fatal submersion injuries. More than 40 percent of these children require hospitalization. Nonfatal incidents can cause brain damage that result in long-term disabilities ranging from memory problems and learning disabilities to the permanent loss of basic functioning (i.e. permanent vegetative state).

In 2001, 859 children ages 0 to 14 years died from drowning. While drowning rates have slowly declined, drowning remains the second-leading cause of injury-related death for children ages one to 14 years.

During 2000-2001, the overall age-adjusted drowning rate for African Americans was 1.4 times higher than for whites. However, these rates vary by age. During this time, African American infants under one year had a drowning rate 1.9 times the rate of white infants (CDC 2003). Most infants drowned in bathtubs, toilets, or household buckets. Among children one to four years of age, African Americans had a lower drowning rate than whites. Drownings in this age group typically happened in residential swimming pools. African American children ages five to 19 years drowned at 2.6 times the rate of white children in this age group during 2000-2001 (CDC 2003). As children get older, drownings often occur in open water areas such as ponds, lakes, and rivers. 

Risk Factors

Children under age one most often drown in bathtubs, buckets, or toilets.

Among children ages one to four years, most drownings occur in residential swimming pools. Most young children who drowned in pools were last seen in the home, had been out of sight less than five minutes, and were in the care of one or both parents at the time.

Alcohol use is involved in about 25 to 50 percent of adolescent and adult deaths associated with water recreation. Alcohol influences balance, coordination, and judgment, and its effects are heightened by sun exposure and heat.

Boating carries risks for injury. In 2002, the U.S. Coast Guard received reports for 5,705 boating incidents; 4,062 participants were reported injured and 750 killed in boating incidents. Most boating fatalities from 2002 (70 percent) were caused by drowning and the remainders were due to trauma, hypothermia, carbon monoxide poisoning, or other causes. Alcohol was involved in 39 percent of reported boating fatalities. Open motor boats were involved in 41 percent of all reported incidents, and personal watercraft were involved in another 28 percent (USCG 2002).

Pool safety

According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, an estimated 260 children under five years of age drown each year in residential swimming pools and spas. The commission estimates that another 3,000 children under age five are treated in hospital emergency rooms following submersion accidents each year. Some of these submersion accidents result in permanent brain damage.

Nationally, drowning is the fourth leading cause of death to children under five. In some states such as California, Florida and Arizona, drowning is the leading cause of accidental death to children under five.

CPSC offers the following tips for pool owners:

Never leave a child unsupervised near a pool.

Instruct babysitters about potential hazards to young children in and around swimming pools and the need for constant supervision. Completely fence the pool. Install self-closing and self-latching gates. Position latches out of reach of young children. Keep all doors and windows leading to the pool area secure to prevent small children from getting to the pool. Effective barriers and locks are necessary preventive measures, but there is no substitute for supervision.

Do not consider young children "drown proof" because they have had swimming lessons; young children should always be watched carefully while swimming.

Do not use flotation devices as a substitute for supervision.

Never use a pool with its pool cover partially in place, since children may become entrapped under it. Remove the cover completely.

Place tables and chairs well away from the pool fence to prevent children from climbing into the pool area.

Keep toys away from the pool area because a young child playing with the toys could accidentally fall in the water.

Remove steps to above ground pools when not in use.

Have a telephone at poolside to avoid having to leave children unattended in or near the pool to answer a telephone elsewhere. Keep emergency numbers at the poolside telephone.

Learn CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation).

Keep rescue equipment by the pool.

Parents and guardians: only you can prevent a drowning. Watch your child closely at all times. Make sure doors leading to the pool area are closed and locked. Young children can quickly slip away and into the pool.

CPSC requests that consumers report incidents of drowning or "near drowning" by calling the commission toll-free at (800) 638-2772.

Diving Safety

Diving injuries can result in quadriplegia, paralysis below the neck, to divers who hit the bottom or side of a swimming pool, according to CPSC. Divers should observe the following precautions:

Never dive into aboveground pools. They are too shallow.

Don't dive from the side of an in-ground pool. Enter the water feet first.

Dive only from the end of the diving board and not from the sides.

Dive with your hands in front of you and always steer up immediately upon entering the water to avoid hitting the bottom or sides of the pool.

Don't dive if you have been using alcohol or drugs because your reaction time may be too slow.

Improper use of pool slides presents the same danger as improper diving techniques. Never slide down head first-slide down feet first only.

Some information in this report provided by; and