UPDATED: Family of drowning victim wants North Wildwood beach closed

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NORTH WILDWOOD – The family of a Pennsylvania man who drowned in North Wildwood two years ago is asking to have the Hereford Inlet beach closed through a court order, a lawsuit filed in Cape May County Wednesday states.

According to the D’Amato Law Firm in Egg Harbor Township, which is representing George Bradley Smith’s family, the 54-year-old father’s death was “entirely foreseeable and preventable had local authorities prohibited access to the deadly section of hazardous North Wildwood beach.”

The family is also seeking damages, according to the lawsuit. Besides North Wildwood, Cape May County and the state of New Jersey are listed as defendants.

On June 27, 2012, Smith, of Horsham, Pa., had been standing in shallow water along the shoreline near Second Avenue with his 7-year-old daughter, Brandy, Scott Sunderland, a family friend, and Sunderland’s 7-year-old daughter. While they were walking, the lawsuit alleges, the sand collapsed beneath them and they were pulled out to sea.

Reports from police at that time stated that the group stepped into a drop-off.

Sunderland and his daughter were able to make it to shore. According to the lawsuit, while Smith was fighting the undertow he lifted his daughter above his head, and she was rescued by someone on Jet Ski.

Smith was missing for three days, until his body washed ashore about 20 blocks south of where he went under.

“I still cannot accept that Brad never returned from that short walk on the beach...that the beach collapsed under their feet, and that we lost him forever, and almost lost our 7-year-old daughter,” reads a statement from Smith’s wife, Sandra Smith.

While Smith was missing, his wife says she was visited daily by North Wildwood police, who told her of several rescues in the area where her husband drowned. The lawsuit alleges that the signs warning beachgoers not to swim in that area were faded and only cautioned against swimming, not walking or wading. 

“Mrs. Smith is bringing this action because she does not want what happened to her husband to happen to anyone else, ever,” attorney Paul D’Amato said in a statement. “We now know based on our pre-filing investigation that this was a fatal accident waiting to happen and that there must be immediate action to prevent additional loss of life.”

The lawsuit includes a transcript of a recorded interview with a North Wildwood Beach Patrol lieutenant who states that the beach at Hereford Inlet is “anything but safe to swim” and that it could not be closed off to the public completely because nearby bars and condos would complain about the lost beach access.
In a statement, Mayor Patrick Rosenello said officials were unable to comment on the details of the lawsuit. But he did note that there has never been a drowning death at North Wildwood’s guarded beaches.

“The city of North Wildwood takes its beach protection responsibilities quite seriously,” he said.

Rosenello added that at the time of the incident, the unprotected inlet beach where Smith went under had and still has signs posted that swimming is not allowed there. The section of the beach is routinely patrolled to enforce the swimming ban, he said.

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