The summer of 2011 hadn't even begun when three people in Ocean and Monmouth counties drowned in June. This past weekend, the total number of lost hit five.
It's a frightening start to the season.
Let's hope it doesn't rival the summer of 1995, when the Atlantic Ocean claimed 12 people up and down the coast. The rip currents and rough ocean were so bad most of that summer then-Island Beach State Park Superintendent William C. Vibbert wore his bathing suit under his green uniform every day.
There is no common factor that resulted in the deaths so far this summer. Each had its own tragic circumstances.
Fifteen-year-old Naisere Nelson was the first. The Neptune youth slipped beneath the waves off Bradley Beach's Brinley Avenue around 6 p.m. on June 9. His body was later recovered near the Avon Bridge.
Two more drownings followed. And even though the two victims were familiar with the relatively shallow waters of Barnegat Bay, that wasn't enough to save them.
Ryan J. Worrall grew up near the tidal marshes of Barnegat Bay. The 18-year-old — who graduated from Central Regional High School two days before he died — went for a canoe ride in the bay after a post-graduation party with his friend Trevor Murphy. Just what happened on the water in the early morning darkness is still unknown. The New Jersey State Police are heading into the fourth week of their investigation.
Murphy was able to make it to shore. Worrall was not. Apparently no one called for help. An off-duty New Jersey State Police officer spotted the young man's body in the bay off Amherst Beach.
Nicholas Holmes, 25, was next. The young Coast Guard Petty Officer, a passenger in a 23-foot scarab boat, was thrown into Barnegat Bay around 6 p.m. on June 25, when the boat was hit by a heavy wake from another vessel. His body was found two and a half days later, off Island Beach State Park. The irony of a Coast Guardsman dying in a pleasure boating accident was not lost on many.
Then came last Friday night. Within the space of several hours, at the beginning of the Fourth of July holiday weekend, a Mount Laurel man and a Brick Township woman lost their lives on the water.
The body of John Mee, 61, was found floating in Barnegat Bay off Ship Bottom near his personal watercraft. Robin Hoffarth, 49, died when her kayak overturned in the Manasquan River Friday night. She was riding by herself in the yellow kayak, but was out on the water with a friend, who made it to shore.
Another incident which could have been deadly happened when a 40-foot Formula powerboat driven by George McDermott of Jackson careened off the Toms River and plowed into a gazebo on the side lawn of a Bayville home late in the evening of June. McDermott was charged with driving under the influence and reckless operation of a vessel.
Right now, five hours before the Beachwood fireworks are set to begin, the Toms River resembles a watery Garden State Parkway. Cigarette and power boats are roaring up and down the river. Sailboats, kayakers and people riding personal watercraft bob furiously in their wakes. Accidents waiting to happen.
A few simple rules bear repeating. Don't swim after dark. Don't swim when lifeguards are off duty. Observe the rules of the water. Don't drive your boat drunk.
Keep your fingers crossed, folks. Summer has just begun.