Jeffrey Fitzgerald spent Sunday evening with some of his closest friends on a pier in Edgewater, watching his favorite team, the Washington Redskins, do battle against the Houston Texans.
When the game wrapped up, Fitzgerald, a Bowie resident who stood 6 feet 5 inches and was described by his family as a "gentle giant," offered to carry the 36-inch TV up the narrow wooden pier where his friend's boat was docked, according to police and family, and put it in another friend's car to take home.
Fitzgerald, 47, a warehouse manager and a married father of two, didn't make it to the car. Anne Arundel County Police received a 911 call about 12:25 am. Monday, reporting a man had fallen into the South River at Pier 7 Marina in Edgewater. Fitzgerald's body was pulled from an area near the pier, following an hours-long air and water search involving the county police helicopter and help from the U.S. Coast Guard and the Natural Resources Police.
Fitzgerald's family — his wife of 20 years, Lynette Fitzgerald; daughter Tiffany Fitzgerald, 18, a freshman at St. John's University in New York; and son Evan Fitzgerald, 16, a junior at Bowie High School — were described by other family members Monday as "in shock" and searching for answers about his death, which police have ruled an accident.
"They're still trying to figure out how this happened," said Tangela Williams, Fitzgerald's sister-in-law, who was among the family members gathered at the Bowie home in the 15000 block of Jodhpur Drive Monday afternoon. "It just sounds so random and bizarre. All these friends and nobody could save him? We have a lot of unanswered questions."
Police said they found no evidence of foul play and were awaiting results of a toxicology report to determine if alcohol may have played a role in the incident. At the pier Monday afternoon, boaters expressed shock and sympathy over the incident. A clerk working in Pier 7's office said the manager was home sleeping because he had been "up all night" after hearing about the death.
Williams said Fitzgerald, who knew how to swim, and the group of about eight to ten friends had been drinking beer while watching the game. None of the friends could be reached for comment.
Fitzgerald's wife received a call late Sunday night from one of the friends at the pier, Williams said.
"They called initially panicking that they couldn't find Jeff," said Williams, who spoke on behalf of her sister, who was too distraught to speak to a reporter. "He was hysterical, 'We can't find him! We can't find him!'"
Williams said none of the friends saw what happened, but a group of people on another boat nearby said they heard a splash, and Fitzgerald was gone.
Fitzgerald, a native of Danville, Va., attended Ferrum College for about two years, before moving to Maryland in the 1980s. He met his wife in 1987 in Maryland. They married in 1990 in Massachusetts, where they were living at the time.
The family returned to Maryland in 2001, settling in Bowie. Fitzgerald, who coached a youth basketball league in Bowie, worked as a warehouse manager at the Ted Lansing Corp. in Lanham for about the last seven years, his family said.
Baltimore Sun reporter Yeganeh June Torbati contributed to this article.