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Aug 24, 2010 5:47 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

In drowning aftermath, residents push for better beach protection

Aug 24, 2010 5:47 PM

One week after a woman drowned at an unprotected beach in Amagansett, John Ryan, chief lifeguard for the Town of East Hampton, found himself back at the same beach, surrounded by a crowd of questioning, unsettled residents.

“We did five different beach talks, starting at Napeague Lane and moving west,” Mr. Ryan said, referring to beach safety talks he and other lifeguards gave last Sunday. “It was tough at the end. Deerfield was very difficult. It wasn’t just a talk about water safety, it was ‘How could this happen?’ and ‘What we’re doing is not working.’”

Mr. Ryan said about 50 people gathered at each location when lifeguards announced they would be giving the talks, and many of the beachgoers who gathered at the end of Deerfield Lane had also been there when Leslie Wanek Sgaglione, 45, of Old Brookville died on August 8 and many other swimmers had gotten into trouble after getting caught in sudden riptides.

“They experienced something horrifying and I understood that,” Mr. Ryan said. “It was a week later and it felt like it was yesterday.”

Mr. Ryan said the talks advised beachgoers about what a riptide looks like and what to do if caught in one—namely, relax and to swim parallel to shore. He said he also stressed the importance of calling 911 immediately when a swimmer appears to be in trouble. What made the Deerfield talk even more difficult, he said, was that in the case of Ms. Sgaglione, someone did call 911 and lifeguards and other emergency service personnel responded to the scene within minutes. On that day, it just wasn’t enough.

“When we got the call, I was there in two minutes,” he said.

The fact that everyone—witnesses, rescuers, and even swimmers—can do everything right in an emergency and it can still end in tragedy is why some residents are asking the East Hampton Town Board for more lifeguards, more resources and more communication.

Rona Klopman, chairwoman of the Amagansett Citizens Advisory Committee and one of the witnesses to the drowning, is passing around flyers asking concerned citizens to attend this Saturday’s board meeting at Town Hall at 10 a.m. to ask for more lifeguards and a flag system at unprotected beaches, and ATVs at all of the town’s beaches.

Ms. Klopman said the community was deeply affected by the drowning and that she and others feel it is the town’s responsibility to protect all the beaches. Covering its liability by posting “swim at your own risk” signs is not enough, she said.

She said she would at least like to see a lifeguard at the beach on Napeague Lane because it’s a popular beach for local residents as well as people from out of town.

“I went down there at 2:30,” she said on Thursday, remarking that cloudy skies did not deter swimmers. “The parking lot was full, the cars lined both sides of Montauk Highway. The beach was mobbed, and it’s totally unprotected.”

Mr. Ryan said he supported the idea of adding lifeguards, but he said he doubted it would ever happen. He said in order to station lifeguards in the Beach Hampton area, which includes Napeague and Deerfield beaches, the town would also have to build restrooms, which are expensive, require available land and a sewage system. He said the town has been working to build a restroom at South Edison Beach in Montauk for years—with a roughly $250,000 price tag.

“I don’t think East Hampton Town will ever be able to put a lifeguard stand in Beach Hampton,” he said, though he added that all other obstacles aside, there would be room for a comfort station on Napeague Lane, though one lifeguard stand would not be enough to protect the entire area.

Mr. Ryan said each lifeguard stand is only supposed to cover an area of up to 25 yards in either direction.

“Do we cover areas outside of our flags? Sure we do,” he said. “But the protected area is really 50 yards. Can you put one stand down at Napeague Lane to cover all that area? No way.”

Larry Hallett of Amagansett, who was swimming at Napeague Lane on Friday, said he thinks putting a lifeguard at that beach would give people a false sense of security. He said he believes it’s the responsibility of the swimmers to understand the condition of the water.

“One reason is the expense,” he said. “But another is that it takes away from the natural aspect. And I think there is a responsibility on behalf of the parents to act appropriately. I don’t think we should abdicate that responsibility to some lifeguard.”

Mr. Hallett’s wife Anna said she was also opposed to adding a lifeguard at the beach where she said she’s been bringing her children safely for years, but she did agree that a flag system to warn beachgoers about the water condition would be beneficial.

“I think people should be made aware that maybe this is a ‘no-swim’ day,” she said.

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I grew up in an ocean beach community in the south - from an early age we were instructed to only go in the water at lifeguard protected beaches, and we knew both ocean safety and respect for the power of the ocean. The drowning was a terrible incident; but with a coast line the size of east and south hampton, every beach cannot have a lifeguard.
Mr. Hallett speaks of parent responsibility - it is very upsetting to see parents letting their very young children play at the edge of the ocean ...more
By sunshine (47), southampton on Aug 25, 10 10:31 AM
2 members liked this comment
common sense and personal responsibility. it's not always someone else's fault
By uncleronk (136), southold on Aug 25, 10 10:41 AM
2 members liked this comment
I grew up in East Hampton and learned about respecting the ocean from an early age. We always swam at protected beaches and that's what everyone should do - go where the life guards are. No one should expect the town to have life guards for the entire stretch of ocean that is accessible inside East Hampton.
By Rich Morey (291), Brooklyn on Aug 25, 10 11:34 AM
1 member liked this comment
Protecting people from themselves can be a daunting task.
As far as flags go, they would be a good idea provided people understand what the colors mean. A few people had stated that they checked the flags that day at Atlantic Beach prior to going to Deerfield and said the flags were "yellow" as if this meant all is well and throw caution to the wind. Yellow means caution, it means watch your children closely if you even let them in the water and that is wether you are at a guarded beach or ...more
By ICE (1207), Southhampton on Aug 25, 10 12:12 PM
1 member liked this comment
People drown in their own pools. It's all about common sense. If you don't want to be at risk for being caught in a rip, learn how to read the ocean. Or don't swim. Seriously.
By WoWHero (4), Southampton on Aug 25, 10 2:01 PM
Telling someone not to wade into the ocean on a hot summer day because they are not strong swimmers is ridiculous. It's not like most beach drownings happen to people who are swimming 50 yards from the beach, they are usually in waist deep water and swept off their feet. Lifeguards along the entire stretch of ocean is impractical, but why can't some sort of rescue device be stored every 50 yards year round. Remember, this person drowned while trying to rescue another person in trouble. If she could ...more
By deelove (108), Bridgehampton on Aug 25, 10 3:05 PM
The ridiculous thing is going in the ocean wether wading or whatever, when there is a yellow flag if you can't swim well. Swim At Your Own Risk, is the rule at unguarded beaches.

The flotation device thing was tried and people stole them to use in fires and who knows what else.

As squeaky said there was surely plenty of boogie boards or other flotation devices around the beach that day.
By ICE (1207), Southhampton on Aug 25, 10 7:22 PM
Im sure most people there had some sort of flotation device/ boogie board but I would bet that woman never thought about her own safety for a second. Pure adrenaline, just go help was what was running thru her head. No one can ever know how we will act in an emergency situation. But rescue equipment in plain sight is a great idea.
By squeaky (286), hampton bays on Aug 25, 10 4:16 PM
there is currently a law suit against the eh town trustees in new york state court to make the beaches of the dunes area to white sand hotel private. this will be undoing the doogan patent. my question is that if this lawsuit is passed, which it looks like it will be, does the town have the responsibility to guards those beaches? if not then it should be up to the beach associations to educate thier homeowners and also provide lifeguards service at thier expense. especially since it is those ...more
By tito (56), e hampton on Aug 25, 10 6:05 PM
The Dogan Patent is misinterpreted by many people, most of whom have probably never read it. Who owns the beach, depends on the particular chain of title to a property. The blanket thought that the beaches ocean, but particularly bay beaches are public is wrong. Most ocean beaches are public, but there are exceptions to that. I imagine that is what this lawsuit is going to determine. Most bay beaches are private above the high tide line, many are owned below it as well, but the Public Trust Doctrine ...more
By ICE (1207), Southhampton on Aug 25, 10 7:16 PM
1 member liked this comment
Dongan Patent to be exact
By uncleronk (136), southold on Aug 26, 10 8:02 AM
thankyou
By tito (56), e hampton on Aug 26, 10 9:16 PM
thought is to have Beachhampton to have their ocean cert lifeguards...this association usullay is against this..you pay the highest beach front taxes..now get a couple lifguards..u have guards to protect your private beaches in other ways???! Correct? you brought "them" out here to begin with....pay up...
By gansetteer (125), East Hampton on Aug 26, 10 12:09 AM
Someone in a position to know has told me that the Town of East Hampton has arranged for all of these folks to have a full time personal safety coordinator. They are going to create a new tax district to create a pool of funds which will pay for full time staff for each household within 5 miles of the beach. These full time staff members will be there to tell their citizen family whenever they are engaged in activity that could result in injury or even death. Could actually work.
By HW Jablome (21), southampton on Aug 26, 10 6:26 AM
There is no reason for the lack of beach protection in the area. Southampton is worse than East Hampton to an extreme with only 3 guarded beaches, (only one of them being a public beach, Coopers. The other two are The Bathing Corporation and the Bath & Tennis) Southampton has no form of a beach rescue unit that East Hampton has such as the ATVs. Southampton beach patrons must rely on the response of the Fire Department and the Ambulance, both of which have limited vehicles that can access the beach ...more
By acallahan (8), Southampton on Aug 26, 10 7:21 AM
Please specify that you are talking about Southampton Village, not Southampton Town. Southampton Town beaches also include Scott Cameron, Mecox, Sagg Main as well as extend west through Hampton Bays with numerous guarded beaches inbetween. The subject here is town, not village. East Hampton Village from what I believe (east hampton residents please correct if wrong) only has guards at Main Beach and Georgica. Town beaches in east hampton extend through Amagansett (not sure if closer to montauk ...more
By Sag Native (54), East Hampton on Aug 26, 10 11:31 AM
Also, Southampton "Town" does have vehicles for over beach access.
By Sag Native (54), East Hampton on Aug 26, 10 11:32 AM
This area of Amagansett has gone to great lengths to to privatize the public beaches in front of their homes. They have been able to convince the previous administration to install a no parking zone throughout the entire neighborhood and limit the use of vehicles on those beaches. Now they expect to have the town provide them with what would be private lifeguard service. And this is a few weeks after a story about them wanting to post guards at their boardwalks to prevent "outsiders" from accessing ...more
By phins (43), East Hampton on Aug 26, 10 7:42 AM
With you on all that. I can understand the parking ban, thats pretty much the way it is everywhere in both SH and EH near the ocean. Imagine the chaos and property damage if not. However, all those ROWs to the beach in Amagansett should be open to pedestrians, bikers, drop offs, etc.
To fully "protect" the beaches in both towns would require a lifeguard every few hundred thousand feet from from Moriches Inlet to Montauk, so no lone swimmer ever is out of reach. Ridiculous and absurdly expensive. ...more
By smacw (221), New York on Aug 26, 10 5:07 PM
Yes -The Amagansett Beach association has privatized the beachfront and should pay into their association to pay for a crew of full-time lifeguards, or at least as an association post flags at the entrance for their "Own" to determine the swimming conditions for the day.
By localwater (35), east hampton on Aug 28, 10 7:19 AM
Swim at your own risk. It's as simple as that.
By Dayo (31), Sag Harbor on Aug 26, 10 8:19 AM
2 members liked this comment
I feel very sorry for the family and friends of Ms. Sgaglione. Having been caught in a rip tide myself it is difficult to remain calm and remember what to do. Our community should remain proud of the lifeguards that protect us. Their level of professionalism and dedication is recognized not only on the eastern seaboard but nationwide. The more we as swimmers understand what is going on in the water the safer we will be. Thanks to these lifeguards for continuing to inform the public of danger. ...more
By Ebby (75), Sag Harbor on Aug 26, 10 11:07 AM
1 member liked this comment
Maybe we should fence the shoreline just like the ridiculous fences and alarms the law makes you put around your pool.
By skybound (4), Westhampton on Aug 26, 10 1:37 PM
1 member liked this comment
There is nothing ridiculous about requiring a fence or alarm around a pool.
By localwater (35), east hampton on Aug 28, 10 7:05 AM
In Florida all beaches are open to the public and are free! The beaches are protected by lifeguards paid for by tax dollars! Wake up Long Island its time for a change!
By LUVSH (28), Southampton on Aug 27, 10 3:32 PM
Haha, you are wrong! There are many beaches where you must pay to access the ocean. They charge you to drive your car on to the beach, that isn't free. There are also huge stretches of the Atlantic coast which are not accessible due to the oceanfront condo complexes and lack of any nearby parking.

There are also miles upon miles of with no lifeguards are in sight.

Wake up LUVSH it's time for you to go to Florida.....
By ICE (1207), Southhampton on Aug 27, 10 8:54 PM
1 member liked this comment
This whole matter is very sad, and my heart goes out to the family, however
everyone should understand how critical the riptides and under current are and therefore my suggestion is use beaches that are protected with lifeguards,especially when you are a visitor to the east end.
The town cannot afford to put more lifeguard station and equipment on these beaches so everyone should be responbsible, Our lifeguards due a wonderful job and are all very dedicated.
By pattifiore (3), eas on Sep 1, 10 8:16 AM
To start let me say it is a terrible shame that someone needed to die to make this homeowners association try to get serious about safety, but make no mistake about it' We The People' are not allowed to access this beach through the associations accesses. It is their, and only their responsibility to protect THEIR members and guests. If and when they decide to give all the residents of East Hampton access then and only then should all town taxpayers fund lifegaurds at these beaches, untill then ...more
By montaukman (98), easthampton on Sep 1, 10 9:06 PM