Man, 25, dies in rescue attempt

City resident leaped off Fells Point pier to save his girlfriend

February 11, 2002|By Laura Vozzella | Laura Vozzella,SUN STAFF

Jeremy Baxley never learned to swim, but did not hesitate when his girlfriend lost her balance and toppled into the water from the Broadway Pier at Fells Point early yesterday.

The 25-year-old West Baltimore man jumped into the water after his girlfriend, Patrice Grimes -- losing his life while a bystander saved her.

Last night, Grimes sat with her boyfriend's father, James Baxley, at the rowhouse he shared with his son in the 1600 block of W. Lafayette Ave., both in mourning from the 1:15 a.m. tragedy.

"I said, `Don't come in. I can swim.' He jumped in anyway," said Grimes, an optical company employee. "I guess the current took him out."

Grimes said she was able to hang onto the side of the pier and climb out after a passer-by lowered his belt to her.

"I said, `Don't worry about me. My friend is drowning,'" she said. "They're looking and looking and they said, `He's underwater, he's underwater.'"

The body of Baxley, an auto mechanic, was pulled out of the water just after 3 a.m. by a police marine unit, assisted by the city Fire Department and a Baltimore County dive team, said Agent Martin Bartness, a Baltimore police spokesman.

Grimes was treated for hypothermia at Johns Hopkins Hospital and released.

Jeremy Baxley battled asthma as a child, which made it tough for him to play sports but promoted a tender quality that never surfaced in his twin brother, Jerome, an Army sergeant at Fort Hood, the father said.

"His nickname was Sparerib," said James Baxley, a retired rubber plant worker. "I called him Sparerib and his brother was Fatback because his brother was rough and tough, and he was tender, like a sparerib.

"He was a sick kid coming up. He stayed in the hospital a whole lot during the summer. Every other week he was in the hospital being stuck with them needles. They had to give him a needle to open up his lungs."

James Baxley said his son was listening to his heart instead of his head when he jumped into the frigid harbor water to help his girlfriend. Grimes agreed.

"He had a real big heart," she said. "He would do anything for anybody. He was a good man."

Baxley and Grimes had known each other since elementary school but had just started dating in August. Baxley loved Grimes' 13-month-old daughter, Dejanelle, as if she were his own, Grimes said.

"We were planning on, when we got our taxes back, moving, getting an apartment," she said. "All of our plans [are] just gone. ... We had real big plans. We started getting ideas about the furniture -- what color we want this, what color we want that. And now I have to do that by myself."

The couple had gone out Saturday night with Baxley's cousin to a Fells Point bar. Grimes could not remember the name of the club, but said she decided to step out for some air a little after 1 a.m.

"It was smoky and body aroma and all this and that stuff," she said. Baxley followed, but his cousin stayed behind, Grimes said.

"I was walking down the pier," she said. "I had some high heels on. My ankle went one way and my boot went the other and I was in the water."

By late yesterday morning, someone had placed a bouquet of pink carnations on the edge of the pier. Yellow police tape fluttered from light poles.

At the Baxley rowhouse, where relatives and friends from Central Church of Christ offered condolences, Grimes was struggling to cope with the accident.

"The worst part is, I'm sitting here, the last thing that I see is he's drowning -- actually seeing it every time I try to close my eyes," she said. "That's the only thing that pops in my head."

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