Two beachgoers were apparently run over by a police vehicle driven by a veteran officer at Edwards Boulevard beach on July 16, in what officials described as a freak accident.
The incident occurred at about 8 p.m., when the officer, David Walpole, a 32-year member of the Police Department, ran over the pair as he was making a three-point turn at under 5 mph in his truck after he responded to a large group of people swimming after hours, which is prohibited.
“His job at night is to patrol the beach and keep swimmers out of the water when the lifeguards are no longer on duty,” Police Commissioner Mike Tangney said. “He had seen a large group in the water by the jetties at Edwards — which is the most dangerous place to be — and he verbally ordered them out.”
Tangney described the victims as a 48-year-old man and a 36-year-old woman from Hempstead. Police did not identify them.
“He just didn’t see them,” Tangney said of Walpole. “It was a terrible accident. A bunch of little things contributed to a horrible event.”
The man suffered broken ribs and bruised lungs, while the woman was treated for a leg injury and a broken finger, Tangney said.
Walpole administered first aid to the pair and called for emergency medical assistance. Both victims were transported to South Nassau Communities Hospital, and as the Herald went to press, both remained hospitalized, Tangney said.
“They were alert, responsive and conscious, and had full use of their extremities,” Tangney said, adding that the man was given supplemental oxygen at the scene.
Tangney said that Walpole was taken to South Nassau Communities Hospital’s Emergency Department at Long Beach for evaluation. He has been removed from the beach patrol. Tangney added that Walpole, who many have a described as a respected officer who has rescued many people, was not under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time.
The commissioner emphasized that the investigation was continuing, and noted that the Nassau County district attorney’s office would also review the case.
A Nassau County Police Department crime scene unit and a Long Beach detective also responded to the scene, according to Tangney, and were interviewing witnesses, including a civilian and another police officer who were on the beach when the incident occurred.
“From what’s been reported, it appears that both of their stories are in sync about what happened,” Tangney said, “and we’ll continue the investigation until all of the facts are known.”
This was not the first time a beachgoer has been run over by a police vehicle. In May 2010, Oceanside resident Marshall Starkman, 43, was on a low-lying lounge chair when Long Beach Police Officer Paul DeMarco, a 27-year veteran of the department who was patrolling the beach, made a sweeping U-turn in his Dodge Durango as he responded to calls about a swimmer in distress, on a day when lifeguards were not yet on duty.
Starkman was struck by the SUV’s right tires, suffered multiple fractures of his spine, neck and ribs and was transported by helicopter to Nassau University Medical Center, where he was admitted in serious condition and remained for weeks. He underwent two spinal surgeries and endured a lengthy recovery. He subsequently sued the city, and in March was awarded a total of $3.5 million in damages. According to court documents, Starkman continues to feel the effects of his injuries, and suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder.
“I totally respect the job that the cops do in Long Beach, however, when it comes to patrolling the beach, there’s a habit of reckless driving that I’ve seen and others have seen in the past,” said one beachgoer who declined to be identified. “The reckless driving is setting the city up for lawsuits that we already can’t afford.”
Tangney said that after the 2010 incident, police began relying on all-terrain vehicles to patrol the beach during daytime hours rather than large trucks. When lifeguards are off-duty, however, police use larger vehicles to better navigate the beach, and Tangney said that the trucks and SUVs are equipped with computers so officers can issue summonses.
Sunday’s incident occurred at the end of a busy day, when the Lifeguard Patrol said it had responded to multiple rescues and emergency medical calls.
Officials say that keeping swimmers out of the water — and these days, telling people not to walk on the new jetties — when lifeguards go off-duty is a challenge every year, especially during heat waves. Emergency responders have already made numerous rescues after the beach has closed at 6 p.m., and last summer, one of two men who were caught in a rip current died after lifeguards pulled them from the water at Edwards Boulevard beach in an after-hours rescue.
There is a designated lane on the beach for police and other emergency responders, Tangney said, adding that police often have to rush to the shoreline during emergencies. He added that officials are reviewing the policies for beach vehicles.
“We’re going to examine the operations on the beach to make it as safe as possible,” he said.