WAYNE CREED: Drowning Might Have Been Prevented


September 22, 2014

Many summers ago, I remember walking out from the Cape Charles beach, hoping to take a swim. It was neap tide, and the water was barely up to my knees, so, like an idiot, I just kept walking. Eventually, I found myself up to my waist, than up to my neck in water. It was then that I felt the pull of the current, and in a moment, was pulled into the channel.

“This is weird,” I thought. I grew up near Virginia Beach, and have spent a lifetime dealing the rips from Cape Cod to Sebastian Inlet, so I was easily able to swim back to shallower water. My son Joey could not swim, and although my daughter Rachel was a strong swimmer (thanks to her swim coach granddad), after that episode, I was going to keep an eye on both of them.

When I mentioned this to some born-heres, they assured me that, “Oh yes, you can certainly drown out there. Some already have.” A few years later, I caught Joey (now 10) and his friend Daniel walking away from the beach, and I knew exactly where they were heading. I had to put down my beverage and run them down before they went into the channel. Probably not the best parental role model, I grabbed their arms and cussed them out good that day.

The tragic drowning of Uvihin “Ace” Horton this summer may or may not mark a sea change in how the Town approaches beach safety. The national attention of this tragedy may finally force the Town of Cape Charles to put into practice the basic safeguards that exist in beach towns all up and down the East Coast. Lifeguard stands, whistles, and new warning signs will certainly be welcome, but it will not alter the facts. Cape Charles has done much to lure tourists here, yet even as it was well aware of the dangers posed by drowning, it did nothing to protect them.

The shallowness of the beach creates a false sense of security, so if you don’t point out the dangers, how are people from out of town supposed to avoid them? I know a lot of folks want to sweep this under the rug and pretend it never happened. I understand, but that’s not how it’s supposed to work. The Town of Cape Charles was negligent: Ace Horton did not have to drown. The words “Use the beach at your own risk” scrawled at the very bottom of the beach rules sign may or may not relieve us of any liability, but it will not wash the blood off our hands.


Sometimes, I just don’t get it. The irony that Councilman Natali and the Planning Commission spent so much time and energy fighting and ripping down “Community Center Now” signs, instead of focusing on putting up signs warning visitors of the drastic changes in depth and the deceiving current at the edge of the channel, is hard to reconcile.

How much time and money was spent for the Town Planner to create the vindictive sign ordinance (not to mention chicken coop ordinance), and not a single second went into an ordinance (or sign) regarding the beach safety of our visitors?

The $8,800 wage study released by Springsted, Inc., seemed to address every issue except the most important one of beach safety. To spend almost $10,000 on this study and not a penny on beach safety seems morbidly out of place. How many lifeguard stands could you buy for $8400?

Instead of purchasing the seven lots from Mr. Foster, shouldn’t the priority have been constructing some form of beach safety protocol, including infrastructure and seasonal staff?

At this point, the priorities of this town have to be questioned. Had they not been so greedy, power hungry, petty, and vindictive, and had they focused on what was truly important (safety of children), than this tragedy could have been avoided. Former councilman Veber seems to relish using his three minutes of public comment at Town Council meetings to applaud certain members for taking the ‘high road’ against citizens in the fight for the old school. It seems like the high road has been re-routed and now runs under ten feet of pond scum.

This pattern of misplaced priorities and neglect has been occurring for some years now, and has led to a string of fiascos: a malodorous, septic wastewater plant twice as large and six times more expensive than we needed; spending over a million dollars on Central Park and then selling the adjacent public property to a developer for $10 (property meant for the underserved kids of the lower shore); skyrocketing fees and taxes that penalize folks on fixed incomes; millions spent on a harbor that only serves the wealthy 1% all the while piling an $11 million debt burden on the backs of a town of less than 1,000.

Years of dull neglect, obliviousness, and incompetence have culminated in this summer’s tragedy. This has to be terminal, the end of the line. And it’s not just Town officials to blame. We are all responsible and need to be accountable for what we have done; we as a town have voted the same block of candidates into office over and over.

You always reap just what you sow.

Last Sunday night, unable to sleep, I went outside and sat on my front porch steps. The air felt cool, and I could feel summer waning. Still, a few fireflies were lighting up, and I could hear the faint croaking of frogs hanging out beside the fish pond. As summer ends, with it comes the hope and expectation of a new school year. My wife had been shopping that day, buying new notebooks and paper, pens, and pencils, shirts, shoes and pants.

Ace Horton, an “A” student from Trenton, New Jersey, will not be going back to school this year, and that thought continues to wrench my stomach. Angry, I can’t help but yearn for social justice. I know that won’t bring Ace back, but it may finally shed some light on our real situation, as well as set a new tone of caring, safety, and accountability that has been sadly missing from Cape Charles, and the Eastern Shore for that matter, for oh so many years.



16 Responses to “WAYNE CREED: Drowning Might Have Been Prevented”

  1. Andy Zahn on September 22nd, 2014 6:42 am

    Water is by nature dangerous and kids are attracted to water. When we lived in Ship Bottom, NJ, the bay was at the end of our block. One day my oldest, about 5, was trying to ride his tricycle into the bay. Another time two of mine were in trouble; I swam the one to a raft while going back for the other, returning him to the beach and swimming to the raft to collect the first one. At one end of our street was the ocean, at the other the bay. A block over was a lagoon with a bulkhead for keeping boats tied up. Area kids walked to the L.B.I. Grade School and one youngster going home fell into a lagoon and drowned.

    As a teen I would swim at different ocean beaches and it would aggravate me that the lifeguards were forever blowing their whistles at me. One thing Jersey beaches had that would be useful at Cape Charles was a float line with buoys. Swimmers were not supposed to go out past that line.

    Being boys we did stupid things. In California I built a raft for going on the San Joaquin River. Near got run down by a PT boat toward dark. Took an outrigger canoe on the river in the winter and the wind caught the outrigger and dumped me in the water. On a summer’s night a few of us would go to a deserted section of beach in Holgate, NJ, and swim. It is spooky in the ocean in the dark and it is dangerous.

    I’m with Wayne about signs, etc., and I recommend a float line and telling the public why the line is there.

  2. Marion Naar on September 22nd, 2014 9:04 am

    No single solution of course, but knowing how to swim is important no matter where one goes out or in the water, especially here on the Shore where we are surrounded by large bodies of water. How about offering swimming lessons at the town beach during the summer months, perhaps in connection with the town’s recreation program and open to visitors as well as residents. In addition to swimming skills, lessons could include instruction about dangers on the water and in particular at the Cape Charles beach.

  3. Louise Oliver on September 22nd, 2014 10:16 am

    A few summers ago I had a similar experience at Cape Charles Beach. After a long day of sun and play my two boys and some friends (6-10 years) were enjoying the last minutes of fun way out in the shallows. Within seconds, one by one they no longer had their feet on the sand but were being dragged out into the channel. Thank God and the Big Buddha April Rabren was out there within grabbing distance of these kids. She entered the channel and got the kids safely back to land. I’m a cautious parent when around water with kids; however I am now a vigilant parent to the extreme at Cape Charles Beach.

    At the very least there should be prominent signage advising of the channel dangers and the absence of a lifeguard.

  4. Anne Teele on September 22nd, 2014 11:11 am

    “You always reap just what you sow.” Yes, indeed. How many enemies do you have, Mr. Creed? Maybe you should start being constructive rather than provocative and combative and you’ll get positive results.

  5. Andy Zahn on September 22nd, 2014 4:02 pm

    Swimming lessons is a great idea! At the school where I taught on the Jersey shore with ocean and bay and many of our students working on the water the faculty recommended the school have a pool as a gym station and require a Red Cross Life Saving Certificate for those able as a requirement for graduation. Kids from other areas came down and got lifeguard jobs while our students sat and watched. The school board said “why should we teach swimming when the ocean is so near by”? They answered their own question. I drove my oldest grandson to the YMCA in Toms River to learn how to swim. He spent many days on my boat almost before he could walk. We took all four of our sons to Cedar Creek Park in Bayville where the college student, Mike Mastanardi, who was a lifeguard, taught them to swim. That lifeguard later became the police chief of Dover Township, Toms River, a job he held for many years.
    As a kid going into Barnegat Bay I was told to beware of “holes” where all of a sudden the depth changes from 3′ to 7′ and the result could be a drowning. There are many things to watch out for and sharks are always a danger. While fishing by the concrete ships I saw the largest swimming thing I have ever seen and have no idea what it was.

  6. Judy McKnight on September 23rd, 2014 6:59 pm

    I grew up going to Virginia Beach too. I was taught that the ocean was dangerous and that if I was not alert and careful I could be taken up and out to sea by a wave or current.

    I have owned property in CC for 10+ years. I have spent many days on its beach and in its waters. Now I have grandchildren that join me on the beach in the summer. “Its a great beach for kids,” I often tell people.

    Not until this tragedy did I realize the dangers in its waters. This article has educated me, informed me, and enlightened me. And although I worry that I may end up paying higher taxes because of its accusations and tone, I appreciate and am thankful to be informed regarding our beaches’ dangers. For this article has enlightened me tremendously. I cast my vote for informational warning signs, boundary ropes, and lifeguards.

    I also vote for respecting each other, listening to each other, identifying our shared hopes and our goals for Cape Charles, and working together to meet those goals. I don’t really know why some people in Cape Charles are so angry with each other. But I think it is time we all grow up and agree to identify and work together for our common good.

  7. Sheila Traina on September 23rd, 2014 8:14 pm

    I agree that a float line should be in place. Vacationers have a false sense of security in the shallows. Roping off the area will save lives and help prevent another senseless drowning.

  8. Deborah Bender on September 24th, 2014 9:13 am

    I agree with the floating line ropes so that people will be more aware of where NOT to go in the water. I also think that parents, grandparents, and anyone taking small children to the beach should watch the children closer. I have been at CC beach many times and have seen the parents paying more attention to what is in their “cup” than actually watching their children. I feel so bad for the caretakers of little Ace. Their loss is all of our loss.

    Oh and for Ms. Teele…Wayne Creed is a really nice person and truly cares about the folks of Cape Charles. I am thinking that you have never met him so please lighten up. He really is a nice guy.

    Bullfish bury themselves in the mud and when they leave they leave a deep hole. If you step into the hole you are usually over your head. These are the holes that people that can’t swim get into major trouble.

    The moral of this story is: If you can’t swim don’t go too far out into the water please!

  9. Craig Richardson on September 24th, 2014 8:57 pm

    There is nothing unsafe about Cape Charles beach! If you can’t swim you should either be wearing a flotation device, or not be in the water period. Signs warning the public of possible deep holes offshore are fine, but lifeguards and float lines is a little much. A little common sense and parents actually parenting would be a good place to start.

  10. Dana Lascu on September 25th, 2014 11:49 am

    A little much is when a life is needlessly lost. Demarcations and signage that save lives are simply common sense. Lack thereof is negligent and shortsighted – you don’t want to wait until you get the beach statistics you don’t want. Even good swimmers need indications regarding where and when it is unsafe to swim.

  11. Susan Bauer on September 25th, 2014 1:39 pm

    I read an article the other day about how the Andromeda Galaxy is going to collide with and gobble up our own Milky Way Galaxy in about 500 billion years. I chuckled at a comment that said “The GOP will find a way to blame Obama for this.” Much the same way, I find it ludicrous and not just a little beleaguering to constantly hear some folks in this town blame every ill that befalls our little community on the town counsel, the mayor and other good people who serve the town. Much like our president is not responsible for cosmic events, the town government did not cause this tragedy and it is demeaning and offensive to the family of this child to exploit his death for a reason to dredge up the old school debate.

  12. Andy Zahn on September 25th, 2014 2:27 pm

    A kid wearing a floatation device could be the worst possible thing in that he has a false sense of security and ventures too far out and now is in the channel and in real trouble. Kids who can’t yet swim have forever enjoyed the beach with their little pail and shovel, building sand castles and wading in the water. Yes, yes, yes parents should ALWAYS keep their eyes on their kids and I was always counting f-o-u-r to be sure mine were safe. I had friends come down from NJ and get in big trouble in Chesapeake Bay when their aluminum boat rolled over. They were not used to such big water, most bays being not as rough. No water is “safe”. In the army I had to inform a soldier that his brother had just drowned in the river by their home. Pools, ponds, lakes, streams, lagoons; they are all dangerous and kids are attracted to them. Parents must watch their kids but that’s not always possible and at a certain age you have to let loose. A float line and signs should cost but little and probably volunteers could do the job in short order BUT no doubt the town would need permits.

  13. Deborah Bender on September 25th, 2014 6:44 pm

    Ms. Bauer — No one said that it was anyone’s fault that this tragedy happened; however, for a town to constantly push the beach and it not be as safe as it should be is the tragedy. Everyone is well aware that you were against the community center, and your people won that war. The folks running this town need to step up and take some of the responsibility for the tragedy as well. The only reason we put the pool in our yard was to teach our grandchildren to swim. The water can be very dangerous for an adult let alone a child. Perhaps our recreation director could organize free swimming lessons and the town could pick up the tab for the instructor. Let’s see if they will do that.

  14. Joe Banks on September 25th, 2014 10:33 pm

    A child died.
    It was an accident, a very tragic one.
    The Bay is to blame, not the boy, not his family, not the town.
    In my humble opinion, the death of Ace can and should be used as a springboard to discuss beach safety.
    This is not the proper forum to name call, talk about the community center, or Dickie Foster.
    A child died at our beach. Have some respect.

  15. Susan Bauer on September 26th, 2014 12:36 pm

    Amen to your comment Mr. Banks. Unfortunately, respect in this town is rarer than the tiger beetle.

  16. Deborah Bender on September 26th, 2014 7:21 pm

    Believe it or not Ms. Bauer, Wayne Creed has tons of people in Cape Charles that think a lot of him. . . .
    Respect is given to people that earn it.