15 Sep 2014
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UPDATE: Cops Say 40 People Rescued in Hampton Bays Saturday Night; 3 Face Charges

Three men arrested on town code violations for swimming in prohibited areas; one of the men additionally charged with obstruction for allegedly disobeying police.

Update, Sunday, 9:50 a.m.: In a statement released Sunday morning, Southampton Town police detectives said that on Saturday night, 40 people were rescued from the water or the sandbar in Shinnecock Bay where a party had previously been held and that three people are facing charges related to the massive water rescue incident.

Det. Timothy Wilson said it all began at around 8:20 p.m., when the department received a report of two male swimmers who appeared to be in distress in the Shinnecock Inlet.

Officers from the 's Community Response Unit, Patrol Division and Detective Division arrived on scene first to discover that one of the swimmers, Thomas Besch, 23, of Hampton Bays, was being pulled from the inlet. Concerned citizens who were looking on pulled him out because "he was unable to exit the water under his own power," police said.

The second swimmer, still in the water, was being pushed out from the inlet south into the Atlantic Ocean by the strong current, according to police. A Coast Guard vessel in the area found him, approximately 200 yards south of the inlet. (Police had previously said it was 300 yards.) The Coast Guard brought the swimmer, Michael Emmerich, 23, of Medford, to Oakland's Marina.

"As this situation unfolded, additional information was developed that the two swimmers were at a barbecue which had been taking place on a sandbar in Shinnecock Bay, which is located north of the Shinnecock Inlet. It was determined that approximately 40 subjects were now stranded on the sandbar," police said, adding they called in for additional resources.

A Suffolk County police helicopter, Southampton Town Bay Constables, Quogue Village Police Marine Unit, Suffolk County Parks Police, the Hampton Bays, and fire departments and the Hampton Bays Volunteer Ambulance all responded, according to police.

That's when a third man was found swimming in the channel. The Coast Guard vessel, which was at Oakland's Marine Basin, rescue the man, Joseph Scotti, 20, of Hampton Bays.

In addition to the three swimmers, 37 additional people were ferried from the sandbar to Oakland's. The Hampton Bays Volunteer Ambulance checked each one of them. Only one person was taken to a hospital for precautionary reasons, police said.

Police said Besch appeared to be under the influence of alcohol and was arrested and charged with violating the town code for swimming in a channel or an inlet, as he did so at his own risk and well before a rescue effort had been undertaken. He was also charged with obstructing governmental administration in the second degree, a misdemeanor, because police said he fled the scene after being told he was under arrest on the code violation. Police found him at the Ponquogue Bridge and he was taken to Southampton Town police headquarters, where he was processed and held for arraignment.

Charges were also filed against Scotti and Emmerich on town code violations for swimming in prohibited areas, police reported.

The investigation is ongoing. Those with information are being asked to call the Southampton Town Police Department at 631-728-3400, or the Southampton Town Police Department's Detective Division at 631-702-2230. All calls will be kept confidential, police said.

Update, 10:50 p.m.: The search in Shinnecock Bay has been called off, with everyone believed to be accounted for, after more than 20 people were rescued on Saturday night, according to .

Sgt. Lewis Scott told Patch at the scene that a large group of people were having a party and drinking on the sandbar, or island, earlier in the day. The tide was going out and at least three people were taken by the current as they tried to swim to shore, he said.

A Coast Guard boat that happened to be in the area on patrol rescued one person about 300 yards offshore who was swept through the Shinnecock Inlet. The Coast Guard also rescued at least one person on the bay side of the Shinnecock Canal, Scott said. Another person, who swam toward the rocks at the inlet, was rescued by a civilian, he added.

In all, he said, more than 20 people were rescued from the water and the sandbar.

Rescuers were unsure at first exactly how many people had to be rescued. "A lot of the group didn't know each other," Scott said.

Coast Guard, bay constable and fire department boats ferried people from the sandbar to shore, near Oakland's restaurant and marina. Ambulance crews set up in the parking lot, assessing victims as they came in.

No one appeared to be hurt, but those Patch spoke to were embarrassed by all the commotion.

According to several of the rescued people, who declined to give their names, there were upwards of 65 people at the BBQ at its peak in the afternoon. Boaters had left about 30 people behind on the sandbar with no way to get back and at around dusk some people began swimming to shore, the witnesses said.

Southampton Town police were first on scene and assumed command, working with Suffolk County Fire Rescue coordinators during the massive search that took at least two hours.

Rescuers searched the sandbar on foot, in addition to the county police helicopters searching the waters from the air, to ensure that no one was left behind.

Update, 10:20 p.m.: No one has been reported injured, but police and fire department officials are still trying to confirm the number of people that were rescued and that everyone is accounted for, according to chatter on the radio.

Rescuers are making a last sweep of the sandbar and personnel are going to be released.

Previously: Southampton Town police, bay constables, the Coast Guard, fire and EMS officials are involved in a large water rescue effort in Shinnecock Bay in Hampton Bays on Saturday evening at around 9 p.m.

While details are still unclear, it is being reported that a large group was on an exposed sand-bar in the bay and became stranded, in the dark, as the incoming tide covered the sand-bar. Some people reportedly tried to swim ashore — in a panic, reportedly, and may have been swept out from shore by the tide.

Police and fire department officials have located and brought ashore at least 16 people, as of 10 p.m. There is another group still being rescued.

Police set up a command post near restaurant and marina, near the inlet.

It does not appear anyone is missing, but police are still interviewing people involved in the incident to account for everyone.

A Suffolk County Police helicopter responded and is reporting to rescuers from the air, while also providing a search light. Fire engines and trucks provided telescoping lights.

Southampton Town police were unavailable comment.

The Hampton Bays Fire Department, Hampton Bays Volunteer Ambulance, Flanders Ambulance, Southampton Town Ambulance were responding. Boats from North Sea, Flanders, East Quogue, and Southampton fire departments also responded.

Divers are standing by.

Details are developing. Please check back for more information as it becomes available.

Brendan J. O'Reilly is reporting from the scene.

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