2 brothers presumed drowned

August 23, 1994|By Dan Thanh Dang | Dan Thanh Dang,Sun Staff Writer

Police conducted a daylong search yesterday for two East Baltimore brothers believed to have drowned after they went for a swim while fishing late Sunday night in Back River.

Baltimore County police and Department of Natural Resources boats and a state police helicopter searched the river in the predawn hours and returned during the day to look for the bodies of James Donahue Gebbia, 32, and Michael Joseph Gebbia, 25, both of the 900 block of S. Grundy St. The men were last seen off Porter Point near Essex Skypark, police said.

Their brother, Philip Carey Gebbia, 32, of the 600 block of S. Newkirk St., reported them missing about 12:20 a.m. yesterday after he and a friend had looked for the men for two hours, police said.

All three brothers were "highly intoxicated" when the two disappeared, said E. Jay Miller, county police spokesman.

Gene McClure, who helped Philip Gebbia in the search, said he and the Gebbias were fishing from the shore off Beachwood Avenue after a storm. "They used to go fishing there a lot because this property belonged to someone they knew," said Mr. McClure, 25, Michael's friend and co-worker at a steel fabrication plant in Baltimore. He said that Sunday night was the first time he had fished with the brothers.

Then James and Michael decided to go swimming, he said.

"Philip told them not to stray out too far because of the weather situation -- kind of drizzly -- and because they had been drinking," said Mr. McClure, who sat on a dock yesterday shaking his head and watching police drag the river.

"The last thing I told them was to stay close. They were talking amongst themselves, yelling and screaming, and having fun. Then around 10:30, we realized we hadn't seen them in a while," he said.

For the next two hours, Mr. McClure and Philip Gebbia, James' twin, searched for the brothers along the shore, back roads and fields near Porter Point. "We thought maybe they got out and walked off somewhere down the shore," Mr. McClure said.

Philip Gebbia and Mr. McClure then went to the Essex Precinct station to report the men missing. Mr. Miller, the police spokesman, said police went with Mr. Gebbia to the scene, where he became belligerent, accused officers of not working fast enough and attacked one of them. He was charged with assault and disorderly conduct and was held at the Essex lockup until he was released on $5,000 bail at 2 p.m.

Natural resources police and the County Police Marine Unit began dragging the river shortly after the men were reported missing, Mr. Miller said. A state police helicopter searched the shoreline until bad weather halted the search.

Four county police boats were called in late yesterday to continue the search, Mr. Miller said. Each boat had a police dog on board and a diver from the Middle River Rescue Squad, he said.

Sgt. Ronald Dring of the natural resources police said, "This has been a bad year for us. We've had over 30 drownings for the state so far. . . . It's especially tough for the family to lose two. There's always that hope that since no one saw them go under, they'll show up at home."

That's what family and friends are hoping.

"That was more or less our mistake in hoping that they'd come up on the shore somewhere instead of going to one of these houses and dialing 911," Mr. McClure said. "Hopefully, they're not going to bring up that drag bar with their bodies in it. Mike was like a younger brother to me."

Three family members came to Porter Point yesterday afternoon, but refused to comment, only telling each other to "pray for the best."

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