Canoe trip turns tragic as girl dies in accident

April 16, 1995|By David Folkenflik | David Folkenflik,Sun Staff Writer

A family outing off Tilghman Island turned fatal yesterday as a 10-year-old girl and her 6-year-old brother apparently slipped from their uncle's grasp after their canoe capsized in the windy, cold Choptank River.

Jennifer Thompson was declared dead several hours later at a Washington, D.C., hospital, and despite the efforts of dozens of rescuers, her brother, Samuel, had not be found off the southern tip of Tilghman Island by nightfall. The children's uncle, a Baltimore County attorney, was hospitalized in guarded condition last night.

The uncle, Paul J. Weber, 37, of Reisterstown and the children were visiting the Tilghman Island weekend home of the children's grandmother, whose name was not disclosed by police.

Statements taken by investigators from Mr. Weber and passers-by indicated that the afternoon of what was intended to be a pleasant weekend adventure unfolded like this:

* About 11:30 a.m., Mr. Weber and the two children headed from Blackchestnut Point in a red aluminum canoe into the rough currents of the Choptank.

* Between noon and 12:30 p.m., the canoe capsized. All three people were wearing life preservers. Mr. Weber told police he and the two children clung to one another for about an hour, when the chilly water took its toll. The water temperature was 52 to 54 degrees, investigators said, low enough to induce hypothermia, which put him to sleep.

* Several hours later, about 5 p.m., two men boating in the Choptank -- Charles H. Luskey of Edgewater and his son, Charles T. Luskey of Washington, D.C. -- caught a glimpse of a body in the river about two miles from a Tilghman's Island cove.

It was Mr. Weber. The Luskeys radioed for help and stopped to pluck him from the water. The crew of the Towjam, a tow-boat from Kent Narrows, responded and picked up the girl in roughly the same spot. Someone else had found the battered canoe earlier in the afternoon, but did not know anyone was missing.

Jennifer was flown by state police helicopter to the Children's Hospital in Washington, and was pronounced dead soon after arriving, a hospital spokeswoman said. A spokeswoman for the state Department of Natural Resources said the girl had no pulse when she was found.

A constantly increasing number of rescuers could not find Samuel Thompson, and called off their search at about 9 p.m. A life jacket believed to have been that of the boy was recovered. Police said the two children lived in Bel Air.

Mr. Weber, an attorney with the Annapolis law firm of Hyatt & Peters, is a specialist in civil and commercial litigation who joined the firm in December 1993. He was in guarded condition last night at Easton Memorial Hospital. "We don't known which way he will go," said Debbie Harrison, the nursing supervisor onduty at the hospital last night.

A small flotilla of boats carrying an estimated 100 rescuers, including some from the U.S. Coast Guard, firefighters, Natural Resources Police and nearby volunteers, searched in vain for the boy.

"I guess the wind caught them and pushed them farther out into the Choptank -- into unprotected waters," said Sgt. George Ball, of the Department of Natural Resources Police. "Nobody knows exactly what happened," he added.

The waters near that area are largely unsheltered from the bay's currents.

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