Laurel man, 65, dies in Great Bay Swim More than 500 participate in annual event

June 14, 1993|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,Staff Writer

KENT ISLAND -- Blessed by easy currents, low winds and velvet water, hundreds of swimmers yesterday made the 4.4-mile Great Chesapeake Bay Swim. But one family waited on the opposite shore for a swimmer who would never arrive.

Minutes into the endurance contest, a fund-raiser for the March of Dimes, Stanley Richards of Laurel, 65, suffered an apparent heart attack just offshore from Sandy Point State Park and died soon after at an Annapolis hospital.

Three hours later, his wife, Mary, and 17-year-old daughter, Misty, were craning their necks to spot him among the last swimmers at the Kent Island finish line, carrying his clothes and hoping to photograph his first cross-bay swim.

Police and race organizers had been frantically trying to reach Mrs. Richards, arriving at her home on Parkway Drive in Laurel and paging her from the communications center at Hemingway's Restaurant just steps from the finish line.

Mrs. Richards, together with her daughter, had dropped her husband at the start of the race, police said. While they ate breakfast at a nearby restaurant and worked a crossword puzzle in their car, the words "cardiac arrest" and "Stanley Richards" crackled over the ships' radios monitoring the race between the twin spans of the Bay Bridge.

Mr. Richards swam about 300 yards into the bay and floundered, said Maryland Natural Resources Sgt. Mark Sanders. With numerous rescue boats nearby, the swimmer was immediately spotted by a kayaker who pulled him close to the boat. Race officials and Anne Arundel County firefighters performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation aboard the kayak and later a county fireboat.

"We were pulseless, breathless," said Anne Arundel County Firefighter Dan Jarzynski, who performed CPR on Mr. Richards. The swimmer was transported to Anne Arundel Medical Center by ambulance and pronounced dead at 10:15 a.m., exactly one hour after the race started, from a suspected heart attack, said Debra Smith, hospital operations coordinator.

By coincidence, a reporter conducting interviews at the finish line found Mrs. Richards and quickly informed race officials of her presence. Sergeant Sanders accompanied her and the daughter to the Anne Arundel Medical Center.

"He was an avid swimmer," Sergeant Sanders said, noting that Mrs. Richards was too distraught to talk to a reporter. "She said sometimes he would swim 5 or 6 miles a day in the pool. They thought he was in excellent condition."

The race raised about $10,000 for the March of Dimes Campaign for Healthier Babies.

Participants were required to sign waivers asserting they were "physically fit" and document that they had completed one of three qualification standards in long-distance swimming. Mr. Richards checked that he had completed a 2.5-mile pool swim in an hour and 50 minutes or better, Sergeant Sanders said.

"That's terrible. That's unfortunate," race director Robert Vigorito said when he learned of Mr. Richards' death. "In any kind of endurance event, any medical problem can occur."

The death marred an event that began 12 years ago and for the past two years was plagued by strong currents, high waves and high winds. In the last two bay swims, many participants were unable to finish and had to be plucked from the water by rescue boats.

Race organizers could not recall another fatality and said injuries had been minor -- mostly burns from the rubbing of skin against wet suits.

But this year, the race seemingly went off without a hitch -- aided by water that one captain termed "velvet" and by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which used high-tech equipment to pinpoint tides and currents in an effort to determine the best starting time.

Out of the 521 who went into the water, 505 finished. The others were pulled from the water, said race organizer Chuck Nabit.

The men's winner was Kris Rutford, 33, of Lincoln, Neb., with a time of 1:33:22 -- well short of the event's record of 1:12:00 set in 1989. The women's top finisher was Ellen Lucey, 22, of Gaithersburg, whose crossing time was not available.

"It was a great, wonderful swim," said Marie-Helene Charlap, 32, of New York, who completed the race in 1:59.

"The currents were just perfect," she said as she pulled on a sweat shirt.

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