Thursday, July 9, 2009

Fisherman Drowns in Jamaica Bay

By Conor Greene

The rough, uneven waters of Jamaica Bay claimed a life this past Fourth of July weekend, when a 19-year-old drowned while fishing in Broad Channel. A second victim was saved by a witness who jumped into the water and dragged him to shore.

Mario Acatilta, a Mexican immigrant who moved to Brooklyn two years ago, drowned after wading into the waters at North Channel Beach at about 2:30 p.m. on Sunday. His friend, Jesus Gonzalez, was saved by midtown hotel worker Cesar Meneses, 39, a former lifeguard who was at the small beach with his wife and son. After Meneses pulled Gonzalez back to shore, a park ranger performed CPR until an ambulance took the teen to Jamaica Hospital.

Meneses returned to the water in search of Acatilta, but the only remaining signs of him were sneakers and a yellow fishing hat, floating near the spot where he went under. As sobbing relatives including Acatilta’s brother watched from the beach, rescuers searched for hours before bringing his body ashore at about 5:30 p.m.

Rescuers later said that Acatilta’s body was recovered in a deep sink hole near where he was dragged beneath the water surface. Locals said that despite the calm waters, the bay is especially dangerous for swimmers because the ground surface drops off suddenly in areas. “If you are a fisherman and you don’t know the water and are not an advanced swimmer you should be extremely careful in this area,” said FDNY Deputy Chief Bob May.

A witness described the anguish of watching Acatilta drown and not being able to do anything about it. “It was crazy because I’m actually witnessing somebody die and I can’t help him,” said the man, who didn’t provide his name. “It was crazy.”

Acatilta’s brother later told reporters that the victim worked in a supermarket and grew up in the Mexican state Tlaxcala. He is the city’s second drowning victim this year. Last year, three people drowned at city beaches.

Following the tragedy, local officials called for measures to help prevent future drownings. “This heartbreaking accident is all the more painful because it could have been avoided,” said Frank Gulluscio, a local Democratic District Leader and City Council candidate. “As many longtime residents of this area know, there are a number of common sense proposals that can ensure that our parks and beaches remain safe for everyone. We need to make sure that there is adequate signage on Jamaica Bay shore areas, not only that swimming is prohibited, but that the dangerous tides and crevices can pose a threat. Additionally, we need increased patrols on land, especially those under Gateway’s jurisdiction, during weekends and high volume days.”

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