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Dec 11, 2018 1:08 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Questions Still Linger Following Personal Watercraft Fatality

Dec 11, 2018 3:51 PM

Barry Riddick, who was killed last week in a still-unexplained personal watercraft accident off the shore of the Shinnecock Indian Reservation, was raised on the water.

His father, Matthew Riddick, built docks and bulkheads on the South Fork, as well as on the North Fork and along the South Shore. Many days, starting at the age of 6 or 7, Barry and his older brother, Vincent Riddick, would go to work with their dad, often helping from the water—no matter how cold it was.

Vincent Riddick said he and his brother would be in the water for hours at a time, even in December, helping their father, and had no problem adjusting to the temperature of the water. If a wrench or other tool fell into the chilly water, the elder Mr. Riddick would ask one of his two boys to go in and get it.

One time, Vincent Riddick said, he and his brother fell through a sheet of ice into the frigid Shinnecock Canal, where the water was 30 to 40 feet deep—and came right out without any problems.

So when Vincent Riddick, now 58, found out that his 56-year-old brother, Barry, died on December 3 after an incident involving a personal watercraft, he was shocked.

“What surprised me most of all about Barry leaving us was that he died on the water,” Vincent Riddick said on Friday. “If someone told me that he had died in Riverhead, or he died in Bridgehampton, or died somewhere up the island, I could accept that more than accept him dying in an area he was so familiar with.”

Police said Mr. Riddick died when a personal watercraft he was riding on with its owner, John Jackman, 52, capsized near Old Fort Pond, a tributary of Shinnecock Bay near the reservation, just outside Southampton Village on Monday, December 3.

Barry Riddick’s sister, Gilda Riddick, 62, said the Suffolk County Medical examiner determined that hypothermia was the cause of death.

But many questions still loom regarding the events that led up to the personal watercraft capsizing. Witnesses at the scene have said it appears that Mr. Jackman fell off the watercraft, and that Mr. Riddick went back to save him, but the watercraft turned over in the water.

Others, including members of Barry’s family, said he never would have gone out on a personal watercraft in the first place.

Like Vincent Riddick, Ms. Riddick said she was at a loss for words when she found out the news about her brother.

“Me, my mom and my sister went to the hospital,” she said. “We went into the room, the doctor came out and asked, ‘Why was Barry riding on a Jet Ski at 5:30 at night?’”

Ms. Riddick said she told the doctor they did not know why her brother would have been out on a personal watercraft when he was supposed to be at work. That’s when the doctor told them that he did not survive.

Multiple attempts to reach Mr. Jackman through social media and by phone were not returned. As a result, questions remain about the circumstances surrounding the fatal incident.

The investigation into last week’s accident is still under investigation. State Police did not return calls seeking additional information.

On the day of the accident, December 3, the Southampton Village Fire Department received a 911 call at 5:34 p.m. and had launched a rescue boat from the end of Little Neck Road on the western side of Old Fort Pond by 5:49 p.m. Crews also responded to the eastern side of Old Fort Pond, on the reservation, at the end of Little Beach Road.

Alfred Callahan, the 2nd assistant chief with the department, said that by 5:58 p.m., Mr. Jackman had been pulled out of the water and was back at the dock being treated. When asked if anyone else was on the craft, Mr. Callahan said, Mr. Jackman initially said no, so crews on the reservation were told they could start packing up.

But not everyone left.

Nearly 15 minutes after Mr. Jackman had told EMS personnel he was the only person on the personal watercraft, he began to warm up and regain his senses, and at that point told rescuers that there was another person on the craft with him.

So crews continued the search, and Mr. Riddick was found on shore, on the reservation side of the pond.

How he got there remains unanswered, as do questions surrounding the incident.

“Barry was a G.O.A.T.,” his nephew, Cedric Mosely, 30, said on Friday—G.O.A.T. stands for “Greatest Of All Time.” “He was a legend. He was my uncle. He’s my hero.”

Mr. Mosley said anyone who knew his uncle would say the same thing, noting that his uncle will continue to live on through him, his son, Jamari, 24, and his 1-year-old daughter, Lillyana.

To gain legendary status in Southampton takes time, Mr. Mosley said, but story after story about his uncle backs it up.

Ms. Riddick said she used to work at Shinnecock Tribal Trustee Lance Gumb’s smoke shop along Montauk Highway, and, one time, another smoke shop owner came in and asked if she was “Bruiser’s” sister. Ms. Riddick said she told the person she did not have a brother named Bruiser, but had two brothers named Vincent and Barry.

“Yeah, Barry Riddick—that’s Bruiser. We call him Bruiser up here,” the shop owner said, according to Ms. Riddick.

Ms. Riddick asked how her brother got the nickname, and the shop owner said it was because, in a fight, he always knocked people out. When she asked her brother why people called him Bruiser, he proudly made a muscle with his biceps and said, “That’s why they call me Bruiser.”

“He was known to be a tough guy, but, deep down, he wouldn’t hurt a flea unless he had to,” Ms. Riddick said. “His daughter would melt him—and his son.”

Barry Riddick also loved his sister’s dog, Max, a 10-year-old Siberian husky mix, and many people in the community knew him because he was always out walking Max. Ethel Riddick, Barry’s mother, said her son always talked to Max, even if he was just coming into the house for a brief moment.

On the day he died, Ms. Riddick said, her brother came home, went to the bathroom, and left without saying a word to Max.

“I don’t know who brought him or who dropped him off,” she said. “We thought he was going to work.”

Barry Riddick’s niece, Shavonne Pritchard, 37, said that even employees at the grocery store where he worked thought he was there the day he died, so they were confused when they were told that his body had been found.

“The one thing you need to know, through this whole tragedy, is that he died a hero, because the guy, John, had said to our neighbor, ‘Barry saved my life.’” Ms. Pritchard said, explaining that the family’s neighbor works at Stony Brook Southampton Hospital. “The first thing he said was, ‘Barry saved my life.’ She didn’t go into details. She didn’t ask him any questions, because, I guess, there were other people in the room.”

Barry’s siblings say being on a personal watercraft on a chilly December night was uncharacteristic: They say their brother was not a thrill seeker. In fact, when they were kids, the two brothers would watch people jump from the Shinnecock Canal bridge but never do it themselves. “My dad said, ‘If I ever see you guys do that, I’m going to put some heat on your ass,’” Vincent Riddick said. “If [Barry] didn’t really know what he was doing, he wouldn’t do it. He wasn’t a chance taker.”

He added that his father had died on December 3, 1998—20 years to the day before his brother died.

Vincent Riddick reiterated that if his brother had been at the wrong place at the wrong time, his death would be easier to accept, but that doesn’t appear to be the case.

“I’ll tell you what hurts us more than anything is that we know that he knew better than to be put in that situation and put himself in harm’s way like that,” Vincent Riddick said. “It’s almost, like, what enticed the situation for him to be in that situation? What drove that situation?”

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