Can we stop it from happening again?
“You got to do something down there,” said Fred Cavanaugh of Conimicut Point.
Cavanaugh’s suggestions include blowing a hole in the sand bar to create a waterway that would be too wide and deep to cross and fencing it off.
“They need to put up some sort of barricade, even if it just holds out until the end of the year,” he said.
Since the loss of 16-year-old Javon Jimenez, who was swept off the sand bar Sunday afternoon on a rising moon tide, there has been much discussion as to what can be done to avert another tragedy, but none quite as radical as Cavanaugh’s suggestion to “blow a hole in it.”
Parks and Recreation Director Michael Rooney said he was at the point last Wednesday for a concert and noticed the current and how quickly the tide retreated.
“You couldn’t see the sand and then 20 minutes later the tide was out and people were fishing,” he said. “People don’t understand how strong the current is.”
According to the Coast Guard, a nearly six-foot tide was recorded at 7:43 p.m. Sunday. Tidal flow is strongest two hours before the high, but the Coast Guard did not have information as to the rate of flow.
Since the drowning, Rooney said he has pondered what could be done to better warn people of the dangers, or stop them from venturing out on the point, but has come up with nothing more than the signage that is already there.
Mayor Scott Avedisian, who was at the point soon after the call Sunday evening and periodically during the search and when the body was recovered the following day, said, Tuesday, that the city has contacted the Interlocal Trust to review the measures taken to warn people of the currents. The trust recently visited the point and found that the notifications were adequate.
Avedisian has heard the suggestion to remove the sand bar. Whether that would be feasible or not, Avedisian said, “I would hate to do it.” He said part of the attraction of the point park is to take advantage of the shoreline.
A suggestion he offered was a sign directing people not to go beyond a certain point, although enforcing it would be difficult.
Rep. Frank Ferri proposed a meeting between the city, Coast Guard and other groups with an interest to discuss measures that could be taken.
“We know there’s a danger there,” he said, and suggested lights could be erected at the point that would flash like a railroad crossing during extreme tides.
Yet Ferri also acknowledged it would be impossible to protect people from every circumstance.
Since the tragedy, police have been dispatched to “shoo” fishermen off the sandbar. However, dispatching them continuously would also be a problem.
Col. Stephen McCartney said Warwick Police have been “giving Conimicut Pt. Park special attention for several years now because of quality of life issues and ensuring that park closings are enforced. It would be very difficult to short post an officer there 24 hours a day, seven days a week, given the calls for service volume that WPD deals with, particularly during the summer.”
As Russell Yates observed in an e-mail, “Just posting Strong Currents don't nearly tell the whole story and misinforms people. Not knowing, most people think I'm not going out into the water. I'm safely walking on the sand bar. It's a false security.”
Yates, who contacted media outlets after the drowning, suggests that signs tell the story of drownings and that people can be swept off the sand bar after loosing their footing in as little as 6 inches to 12 inches of water. As Ferri proposed, Yates thinks a flashing light, especially during incoming tides that can be strongest, would be good. And, in memory of those who have lost their lives and as a reminder, he would erect a memorial.
A visit to the park early yesterday morning found regulars Ron Gerry, Wayne Adams and Bob Hawthorne perched on the parking lot guardrail. They meet there every morning and were responsible for calling 911 when they spotted a capsized canoeist out by the lighthouse earlier this year. At that time, Warwick firefighters sent out a boat and were able to retrieve the man. The regulars suggested larger signs and signs in Spanish. They also thought erecting a sign on the beach at the beginning of the point would be good. The existing signs are on an embankment overlooking the point.