Sunset Beach death raises safety questions

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Submitted: Wed, 06/11/2014 - 3:03am
Updated: Wed, 06/11/2014 - 12:08pm

WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY)– It’s a question that comes up this time of year. How safe are our beaches?

After several drownings at Brunswick County beaches in 2013, lifeguards became a hot topic. But, the town never implemented them.

“I love it. I absolutely love it,” said Vinny Justino, who spends his days in retirement watching over Sunset Beach.

He said it’s mostly about fun, but not all the time.

“Especially when people don’t follow the rules, you gotta tell them that,” Justino said, “You know incidents happen.”

Incidents like the one Tuesday, when a woman became unresponsive in the water and later died. But Justino isn’t a lifeguard. In fact, there aren’t any lifeguards at Sunset Beach.

“If there’s a problem out there, obviously we call the ambulance, you know, call the EMTs,” Justino said.

“It’s important,” said Louis Devita, Sunset Beach’s Mayor Pro Tem. “Tourism is important and the safety of our tourists is important. But, there’s no guarantee that lifeguards on the beach are going to make any difference at all.”

Last year, town leaders said lifeguards are too expensive, and Sunset Beach’s attorneys decided lifeguards come with their own risk.

“We increase the liability because people assume that they are safe,” Devita said, meaning that if something happened it would be easier to sue. The town just didn’t want the added risk lifeguards could bring.

“We thought, through education and people swimming the buddy way that we recommend, they would go in the water and they would be safe,” Devita said.

While this recent incident most likely did not involve rip currents, Devita said they’re paying close attention to see if they should look at possible safety changes once again.


  • Timekeeper says:

    Going into the ocean is like texting while driving, or drinking while boating. People think it always happens to someone else and they have everything under control. Unfortunately, many do not. If humans were supposed to be in the water, they would have gills and scales. Too many things out there to hurt you or kill you. I agree with the town. Let those who want to swim in the ocean do so at their own risk.

  • anonymous says:

    Please be a little more sensitive. This is someones wife, mother and grandmother.

  • CBGirl says:

    I agree. I am so tired of people not taking responsibility for their own actions – in the water or not. I’m reminded of a story my Uncle told me years ago. He was a lifeguard. A man that couldn’t swim, climbed the high dive and jumped in the water. When my Uncle had to go in to pull him to the side, he asked the man why on earth? And the man’s response was: that’s your job! Having said that, I do think that any of the NC beaches should have some formal type of authority on the beaches for safety. Sunset is no longer just families going to their summer homes; these owners are getting lots of rental revenue. Hire life guards if you’re going to be a commercial beach.

  • Heimie Schmelter says:

    If you can’t swim, don’t go out past your knees. If the water is rough, stay out. Watch your children. These are very simple guidelines that will save any life. Even lifeguards can’t take the place of common sense. When people learn to be responsible for their own well-being and stop relying on others, they’ll be much further ahead!

  • guesty says:

    There is absolutely nothing wrong with what Heimie Schmelter posted. It is called personal responsibility and commonsense. If one can’t swim well, one shouldn’t go out in the ocean. Everybody is somebody’s relative and that means nothing. That is the same defense the family of thugs give when they are killed due to their actions.

  • Guestman. says:

    So you are comparing someone that drowned accidently to someone that got shot dealing drugs?
    You beat everything, do you know that?

  • Heimie Schmelter says:

    Guesty’s comparison is nothing about comparing someone who accidentally drowned to someone that got shot dealing drugs. The comparison is that everyone (drug dealer or drowning victim) has family of some sort, which by the way was never an intended fact of my inital post on this subject. It was simply about personal responsibility and personal safety.
    I’ve been around this water all of my life. I love it and greatly respect it. Those that aren’t used to it OR aren’t properly equipped to be in it or around it should exercise the very best in the judgement in consideration of their own personal safety and take appropriate precautions to avoid unneccesary risk to their well-being.

    Startin’ ta hear that “ting-a-ling” thing yet?

  • guesty says:

    You appear to lack reading comprehension. I said the claim made that this was “This is someones wife, mother and grandmother.” has absolutely no merit on this story. That is the excuse family members of thugs give when they die. It doesn’t change the fact that due to their poor decisions they are now in the position they are in. Personal responsibility. Give it a try.

  • Dottie says:

    The information in rental houses about rip currents explains how dangerous they are for even expert swimmers. Sunset Beach has spent a large amount of money on beautification to draw more people to the beach. That money may have been better spent on lifeguards. Some beaches at least provide signs that warn people when rip currents are known in the area. Please do all you can to keep people safe even the ones who lack common sense. Maybe they will be more mature (like you) in a few years if given the chance.

  • Frank D Harrisson says:

    Gee, that is like saying “Do away with the state highway Patrol!” Everyone should drive with safety in mind. You know that is not going to happen. How about doing away with the fire department? If everyone was careful with matches or cooking, etc. there would be little need for a fire department. No, man does as men do and they get careless and do stupid things. That lady that lost her life may well have gotten a stomach cramp that can be debilitating and drowned. There a lifeguard could have made a difference.

  • Timekeeper says:

    OK, Frank…..a reality check here…….the State Troopers, Wildlife officers, and such protect us from others who do not have the sense to realize that their actions endanger others. Firefighters protect life and property. A swimmer who ventures out too far, gets caught in a rip current, or over estimates his ability and gets into trouble poses a danger to no one but himself. See where this is going? Everyone should be responsible for his own actions. If you endanger others, someone else needs to take action. If you endanger only yourself, this is where discretion and common sense comes in.

  • Jim Thomas says:

    Lou DeVita is such a tool. “Lifeguards increase risk”? They might add to legal liability for the Town, but they sure as heck don’t increase risk — they lower it substantially. And maybe somebody will mention to Councilman Lou DeVita that Sunset Beach HAS a Mayor: Ron Watts. Lou is nothing more than a plain old Councilman. He loves to call himself “Mayor Pro Tem” (it means “for the time being” Lou — i.e., when the REAL mayor isn’t there) and is nothing but an honorific for parliamentary procedure. It’s meaningless in the real world. But Lou just loves it. Maybe because it’s in Latin. What a tool.

  • V says:

    The woman who died this week from drowning at sunset beach has been going to the beach & going in the water for her whole life and is the type who takes responsibility. It’s a tragedy that she died. People did the best they could for her when finding her. Hopefully less drownings happen this summer than last summer.
    Thoughts and prayers for Patricia, her family and friends.

  • Frank D. Harrisson says:

    The beaches of South Jersey I know very well and they have ad lifeguards for as long as I can remember, I am 80 yeas old. The thing up there was that Lifeguards have a lot of authority, they have arresting powers. You swam where they aloud you and you did swim where they decided it was dangerous. If you went up the beach out of their ZONE and they needn’t bother with you, your risk. But if they see you in trouble more than likely they will make the attempt to save you. They nor the towns ever were held liable. At their disposal, they had a surfboat, a life buoy, and a lookout stand. Two men on watch from 6:30 AM to 6:30 PM seven days. They were solicited from colleges from 30 May until Labor Day ad they had to be Red Cross Certified. You folks should visit any of the beaches from Cape May to Atlantic City. The towns did not start charging for this service until the 1980’s but today swimmers must purchase Beach Tags and wear them, this pays for the service.

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