Child in canoe accident died in his uncle's arms

April 18, 1995|By Ed Brandt | Ed Brandt,Sun Staff Writer

Paul Weber was exploring the coves on Tilghman Island in a red aluminum canoe with his niece and nephew when the sunny Saturday afternoon suddenly turned deadly.

"The tide got stronger and the wind came up," the Annapolis lawyer said from his hospital bed at Memorial Hospital at Easton yesterday. "And the waves got higher and tipped the canoe."

The three were thrown into the 54-degree water of the Choptank River about a half-hour after the trip began. Jennifer Thompson, 10, and Samuel Thompson, 6, were lost -- the girl drifting away and the boy later slipping from his uncle's arms.

"Samuel died in my arms," Mr. Weber said. "We were talking constantly, but then I noticed something different. I wanted to bring him back with me because I didn't want someone else to find him, but I was losing consciousness and he slipped out of his life jacket."

Rescue was tantalizingly close soon after the canoe tipped.

"A sailboat came within 150 feet of us while Jen was still in sight," Mr. Weber said. "We yelled our heads off, but they didn't hear us. We heard planes, and I kept telling Sam they would see us, but I knew they wouldn't."

Samuel and Jennifer were the only children of Laura and John Thompson of Bel Air. Mrs. Thompson, who is Mr. Weber's sister, was at the Tilghman Island home that the family purchased about 1 1/2 years ago when the accident occurred.

The three were examining a small cove when the trouble began.

"The current got very strong and pushed us toward Harris Creek," Mr. Weber said. "We were about 200 yards offshore when the canoe tipped."

There was panic at first, but Mr. Weber said the children became calm and worked with him on survival.

They tried to flip the canoe upright, but couldn't. Jennifer, in a life jacket, drifted away from the canoe, which went slightly below the surface. Mr. Weber was able to keep a grip on the canoe.

"Sam was in a life jacket and kind of on my shoulder," Mr. Weber said. "He was concerned about his sister. 'Did Jenny die?' he asked. She was his big concern."

Mr. Weber, 37, said he and the children had canoed around the area many times.

"I was always aware of the weather and possible storms, but there was no warning for this," he said.

Semiconscious and suffering from hypothermia, Mr. Weber was rescued about four hours later by two boaters, Charles T. Luskey and his father, about three miles from the site of the accident.

"He told me he had a couple of children with him," said Mr. Luskey of Washington. "He was very despondent. He thought the boy had gone under. He knew he was gone."

A Kent Narrows towboat crew recovered Jennifer's body five hours after the noontime accident. Maryland Natural Resources Police and volunteers were still searching for Samuel's body yesterday.

Mr. Weber wanted to know the names of his rescuers to thank them.

"And also the people of Tilghman Island. The entire island turned out to search for the children," Mr. Weber said. "Harrison's Crab House fed all the workers, and Buddy Harrison was really considerate."

Mr. Weber's body temperature had fallen to 85 degrees when he was rescued. He suffered some lung damage and was in stable condition.

"It's very hard, but I'm talking about it now because maybe it will help someone. My family, and the children's family, and my friends have been behind me and have made it bearable," he said.

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