Quiet beach day quickly turned to a struggle for life

3 men saved drowning woman, but her husband died in river

June 22, 2005|By Annie Linskey | Annie Linskey,SUN STAFF

On Father's Day, the three men were enjoying a lazy day with their families.

They had never met one another. But by the time the sun set that day, they had saved one woman from drowning in the Severn River - and had seen the woman's husband die.

James Fitzmaurice of Pasadena was the closest. He was on the beach fishing, and he'd been watching the couple wading in the water off Horn Point in Eastport for about an hour.

"They were frolicking, having a good time," Fitzmaurice recalled. "It was starting to get a little dark; nothing seemed strange about it except they kept going farther out and farther out."

"I started hearing some sort of distress signs," he said. "But I wasn't sure what I was hearing. It was very difficult to hear what they were saying."

But they kept yelling - and finally Fitzmaurice heard a distinct cry for help and ran into the water.

A few doors down, the second man, Andrew Longnecker, was eating grilled pork and vegetables with his parents. His father had just opened up a few gifts. The family sat inside - with the back doors open.

It was Longnecker's mother who heard the cry for help.

"She headed out to the back deck. I followed her," Longnecker said. "Sure enough, we saw two heads bobbing off the beach.

"I saw a guy starting to wade out [to help them]. So I just ran down the hill, hopped over the fence and swam out with this other guy," Longnecker said.

Longnecker is an offshore fisherman. He reels tuna out of the Pacific and lives in Honolulu most of the year.

He feels comfortable in the water - but he'd never been faced with two drowning adults.

Duncan Pickett, the third man, was sitting on a sailboat parked at a marina with his family when the couple got in trouble.

Pickett, who declined to be interviewed for this story, left his boat and steered an inflatable skiff toward the couple.

When the men reached the couple, they noticed that the man - Scott A. Miller - was in bad shape.

"He was really blue, and there was a lot of foam around his face," Longnecker said. "He was going under for a long time."

Pickett and Fitzmaurice used Pickett's skiff to tow him to the beach. They couldn't pull the big man into the boat.

Longnecker was alone in the water with Miller's wife, Sheila. He swam up behind her and tried to bring her in by himself.

"I tried to put her in that rescue swim [position] - the one I learned in fifth grade," he said. "She rolled over and tried to dunk me."

Longnecker approached her again, this time with more success. But after they made some headway toward shore, she panicked.

"In slow motion her arm came up and she grabbed my hair," Longnecker said. "I told myself I wasn't going to let that happen again. I was going to have to leave her and get the boat."

But by now Fitzmaurice had returned with the boat. The two men struggled to get her in it.

"She was vomiting, her face was blue, she couldn't even grab your hand," Longnecker said. They managed to yank her into the boat.

The two men swam the boat to the beach where paramedics were pumping Scott Miller's chest, trying to get a pulse.

Scott Miller was taken to Anne Arundel Medical Center and pronounced dead. Sheila Miller was treated there, too.

Afterward the rescuers learned about the couple.

The Millers had been married in a small civil service a month earlier. They lived in Nashville, Tenn., where Scott, 35, had earned a scholarship to study medicine at Vanderbilt University.

He graduated from the Naval Academy in 1995. He was back in Annapolis with his 27-year-old wife to visit before starting his medical residency at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda. He was to have started work the next day.

When Fitzmaurice and Longnecker talk about their experience, their voices shake.

"I'm happy with what I did," Fitzmaurice said. "I'm a Christian, and I've been saying prayers for him. And for her."

For her part, Sheila Miller is grateful to her rescuers. She's in Annapolis making arrangements to bury her husband. She hopes he can lie next to his father in Wyoming.

But she is still in shock. "I have yet to start to grieve," she said. "It hasn't sunk in that he's not there. At night when I lay awake I wonder when he's coming home."

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