Jul 28, 2014

Surfer: Lifeguards Failed to Rescue My Friend

Chief Gillespie maintains his staff acted properly with incident off New York Avenue beach on Memorial Day involving Woodmere resident.

Surfer: Lifeguards Failed to Rescue My Friend

A friend of a surfer who nearly drowned off New York Avenue beach on Memorial Day said she believes lifeguards are getting unearned credit for the rescue.

Beth Allison said her friend, Karine, a 27-year-old epileptic from Woodmere, was surfing on a long board at about 3 p.m. Monday .

As Paul Gillespie, chief of lifeguards, retold the story to Patch on Tuesday, the lifeguards on duty at the rotating surfing beach spotted Karine laying face down on a surfboard in the water, pulled her from the water and resuscitated her on the beach.

However, Allison, who was in the water surfing with Karine, contends that lifeguards never went in the water and that she was actually saved by an unknown young man on a black surfboard. She said Karine was paddling out into the ocean to catch another wave when the man noticed that she had passed out.

“He said he turned around in the water and saw my friend face down shaking and thought she was maybe just letting some water in her wetsuit because it was so hot,” said Allison, a Long Beach resident. “And he said when he looked back a second later she wasn’t shaking, but was still face down, and he leaped in action.”

This “mystery surfer,” as Allison and her friends call him, started to yell and scream to the three lifeguards for help, but they never heard him, she said, and then she started to frantically scream and point at them for assistance.

“The lifeguards did absolutely no swimming,” Allison said. “They only reached the water’s edge as she was being dragged to the sand.”

Allison said the young surfer and her friends brought Karine ashore, and one friend, Bobby, put Karine on her side, struck her back and the water gushed from her mouth. “He’s a chiropractor, so he’s medically trained and he just snapped into doctor mode and did what he had to do,” she said.

Karine was transported to , where she remains in stable condition as of Wednesday.

Allison said, though, that if it weren’t for her, the man on the black surfboard, whom she estimates was in his late teens or early 20s, and their friends, Karine wouldn’t have made it. “The doctor in ICU told us that a second longer and she would have died,” she said.

After Allison read later how the lifeguards were solely credited with the rescue, she noted, “it just lit a fire inside because that is so not the case at all. We don’t want to condemn them, but definitely don’t want them being praised as though they did their job properly.”

But Gillespie, who said that on Wednesday he spoke separately to all the lifeguards and an EMT who were at the scene, maintains that they acted properly and called Allison’s accusations “not credible and wrong.”

The chief of lifeguards said that the lieutenant lifeguard on duty, Steve Lieberman, did notice a surfer waving his arm with a woman bent over a surfboard, and he sent two other lifeguards down to the shore, where they helped pull her onto the beach and worked on saving her life.

“They knew something was wrong so they called it in right away, and when they call an AMT the ambulance is there right away,” Gillespie said. “... The EMT was holding her and they put her on her side and that’s when she started throwing up water.” 

Gillespie maintains that people often fail to recognize that water rescues may seem to take longer to unfold than they actually do, especially for those who are involved in the frantic situation.

“She’s got to realize that it takes time to do things, you can’t do things in 10 seconds, and everything I heard from our people was the right way to do things.”

Don’t miss updates from Patch!