Tuesday, August 18, 2015
Day 2 of search for missing Virginia man in Delaware River unsuccessful
Posted: Monday, July 20, 2015
Searchers spent a second day combing the Delaware River in Bristol for a 22-year-old Virginia man who is missing and presumed drowned.
While the man's family members anxiously watched and waited along the rocky shoreline, marine rescue units from Lower Southampton Fire Department and the New Jersey State Police used side sweeping sonar Monday to search for objects on the river bottom, Bristol fire department spokesman Herb Slack said.
The units found a “few points of interest,” Slack said, but search operations were suspended around 6 p.m. without recovering the body of Marquis Richardson.
Richardson, who was identified by family members, disappeared shortly after swimming out just beyond the buoy near the Bristol Wharf around 10 a.m. according to authorities. Marine units spent seven hours Sunday searching for Richardson before calling it off due to high tide and heat.
The search resumed about 11:30 a.m. Monday and focused on the area where he was last seen. A witness on Sunday said he saw Richardson swim to the buoy, touch it, then swim a few feet beyond it before he started yelling for help.
The tide was receding around the time Richardson is believed to have entered the water, authorities said. At low tide, the river depth up to the buoy is about four or five feet deep, but beyond the buoy the river depth drops sharply, reaching 30 feet in the shipping channels around low tide, Slack said.
Family members from New Jersey returned to the rock-lined shore Monday, where they spent the day watching rescue operations, hoping his body would be recovered and the family could get some closure.
By late afternoon, only one marine unit boat was searching the water.
“They had a dozen boats out here yesterday,” said Doreen Long, of Camden, who identified herself as Richardson’s aunt. “Today, it’s nothing.”
Family members also complained that marine traffic on the New Jersey side of the river was allowed to continue while the search was underway and the search area was not cordoned off. They were concerned the boat wakes might carry the body further from the search area.
They also wondered why the Bucks County search was called off early Sunday evening, but rescuers were able to conduct a separate search for another missing swimmer Sunday evening across the river in Burlington County, New Jersey.
The body of Thomas Scott, 24, of Edgewater Park, was found around 7:15 p.m. Sunday, about an hour after Richardson’s search was called off. New Jersey authorities ruled Thomas’ death as accidental drowning on Monday.
Thomas was attempting to swim from the city’s boat ramp on East Pearl Street to Burlington Island, police said. Witnesses reported that Scott was about halfway to the island when he began having trouble staying afloat and went under.
“I feel like they’re not putting forth their best effort,” Long said.
But the fast-moving incoming river tide has limited rescue efforts on the Bristol side, Slack said. The sonar was being used to pinpoint the location of a body before sending divers into the water, he explained.
“The river is too dark. You can’t just send divers down to do a blind search,” he added.
Long described her nephew as a “very family oriented” person. He worked for a roads department in Virginia and had traveled to Bucks County with a co-worker to visit the co-worker’s family, she said. He also planned to visit her family in Camden, she said.
“He’s a bit of a free spirit,” Long added. “He gets along with everybody.”
Long and other family members also noted the absence of “No swimming” signs along the Delaware River, though other signs are posted including a warning “Danger keep off Rocks” along the shoreline.
Even a sign posted at the Lion’s Park gazebo, listing park rules including no alcohol or littering, did not mention swimming.
Bristol Council President Ralph DiGuiseppe didn’t know if any signs discouraging swimming are posted along the Bristol side of the Delaware River, though he noted that Bristol police cars include life preserver rings as part of their equipment.
“I’m sure it’s something we can look at,” DiGuiseppe said, when asked about council considering posting signs warning people to swim at their own risk.
But Slack noted that he could not recall a recent drowning incident along the Bristol portion of the river. “You’d have to go back years,” he added.
Since 2013 the bodies of at least two other men, who are presumed drowned, have not been recovered after they went missing in the Delaware River.
John J. Poltonowicz, 49, of Bristol, reportedly fell overboard while on his boat on April 18, 2014, not far from the Second Avenue boat ramp at Neshaminy State Park in the Croydon section of Bristol Township.
Xiang “Billy” He, 38, of Bensalem, has been missing since October 2013 when he was last seen on a River Road boat ramp in Bensalem near where a sailboat he owned was moored. Police found newly purchased groceries on the boat, and two days after he went missing, his empty red kayak was found off the shore in Delanco, New Jersey.