By JOHN HOWELL What was a Father's Day outing on a great day to be at the beach turned into tragedy when a 10-year-old girl was swept off the Conimicut Point sand bar by the incoming tide and a 35-year old man of no relation to the girl lost his life in
What was a Father’s Day outing on a great day to be at the beach turned into tragedy when a 10-year-old girl was swept off the Conimicut Point sand bar by the incoming tide and a 35-year old man of no relation to the girl lost his life in an attempt to save her.
Two other men seeking to assist survived. One was pulled from the water by a Warwick firefighter and the second by someone either on the beach or on a craft offshore. Reports were not clear and neither the identities nor the condition of the men were released. Both were taken to Kent Hospital.
An extensive search party involving dive teams and vessels from bay community police and fire departments, as well as the Department of Environmental Management and the Coast Guard along with a Coast Guard helicopter with scanning equipment, converged at the point.
The man, who Warwick Mayor Frank Picozzi called a “hero,” was identified as Valentin Cardona Sanchez of Central Falls. He was found about four hours after the incident near Conimicut Light. An 80-foot Coast Guard cutter remained at the scene through the night and the search resumed in the early Monday morning fog.
During an afternoon press conference, Capt. Robert Hart, head of the Warwick Police Dive Team, said Yosekarly Martinez of Providence was spotted from the helicopter about 100 yards from the light in the still bay waters. Fog quickly obscured the sighting, but the helicopter held position and directed police divers to the location. Her body was found in four to five feet of water, Hart said.
Hart said the extended Martinez family, estimated to be as many as 20 adults and children, chose to visit Conimicut Point rather than Narragansett because of the shorter drive. The first of police and firefighters responded Sunday at about 2:30 p.m. The scene was a mix of first responders rushing into the water – many tethered – searching the waters offshore in inflatables and larger craft, lights flashing, while on the beach four women in a circle held hands and prayed. Spectators gathered on the point overlooking the beach while others on the north beach, seemingly oblivious to the unfolding tragedy sat in beach chairs with coolers at their side as their kids played at the water’s edge. Off the south beach, kite surfers took advantage of the brisk winds dashing across the waves as yet more vessels joined the search.
Cranston Mayor Ken Hopkins, who was visiting friends at Gaspee Point to the north, could see the activity at Conimicut. When he learned Cranston had joined the search, he joined Picozzi at the point. On multiple occasions, it seemed the helicopter crew had spotted something as it hovered no more than 60 feet over the water and rescue boats converged in the wash of the overhead rotors.
On the beach, Yosekarly’s mother, Carla Martinez, maintained a silent vigil, her head bowed, eyes closed and hands clasped in prayer. She was joined by Father Robert Marciano, pastor of St. Kevin Church, president of Bishop Hendricken High School and chaplain of Warwick Police and Fire. He placed his arm around her. Together, they prayed.
Initially, Carla planned to spend the night at the point, Picozzi said, but as it turned cold, Hart said the family left about 10 o’clock to return early Monday morning.
At the press conference, Hart described the dangerous tidal conditions as being created when the volume of incoming water is compressed by Conimicut shoal into the narrower confines of the upper bay and Providence River. He said the undertow can pull people, even experienced swimmers, not only off the point but under water.
Picozzi said he is looking at ways to better inform people of the danger of walking the point, including increased signage. Possibilities mentioned include signs in Spanish and a sign listing the names of those who have lost their lives at the point.
In 2016, Lonnie Barham, a resident of Shawomet Avenue in Warwick, did an extensive search of tidal warning systems and what might be installed at the point to warn people of a strong undertow. In an email to the mayor, he explains that his research led him to Doug Wilson, president of Caribbean Wind LLC in Annapolis, Maryland, who started his company after completing a 30-year career at NOAA.
The mayor said Tuesday he plans to meet with police and fire as well as representatives from the Department of Environmental Management to consider measures to inform the public of dangers of the point. He said he followed up on Barham’s information but has no plan at this time.
Wilson visited Warwick to inspect the sandbar, to coordinate with state and regional organizations that might offer insight or research, and to brief the Conimicut Village Association and local environmental officials on what might be done to install a riptide warning system at the head of the sandbar. The system, estimated to cost $50,000, would have included an offshore buoy that would transit on an onshore device that would have an alarm.
The village association was not able to underwrite the cost of the system nor did it seek grants.
Hart advised swimmers use the north or south beaches but not to venture into the bay from the point.
While not related to the drowning, Picozzi said the city has not been able to recruit enough certified lifeguards to open all three city beaches. He is considering staffing City Park beach and Oakland Beach. Swimmers at Conimicut would be advised to do so at their own risk.
Beach parking fees at all three beaches take effect on July 1. Residential and non-residential beach parking passes are available at the Warwick Public Library.