A 24-year-old Brooklyn man died in the waters of Rockaway Beach Friday afternoon near a rock jetty by Beach 91st Street, police said.
Fidel Ramirez, of Sheepshead Bay, was taken to St. John’s Episcopal Hospital in Queens where he was pronounced dead.
AMNY reported that according to witnesses, “the victim apparently hit his head on the rocky jetty and disappeared from view. His two friends attempted to find him, but were enveloped by the waves themselves and had to be rescued.”
Mayor Bill de Blasio--who recently announced that beaches would not open for the Memorial Day weekend because of the pandemic-- tweeted that Ramirez appeared to have been swept away by “a dangerous current.”
The city’s beach season traditionally begins the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend, so even in a normal year lifeguards would not have been posted at Rockaway Beach yet when Ramirez died. He and his friends were in a closed section that was marked with red flags, indicating that conditions did not allow for swimming, according to photos and footage of the scene.
The city’s shores have been the subject of contention as de Blasio has struggled to find a balance between social distancing to curb the coronavirus pandemic and allowing New Yorkers to seek relief at the city beaches. Despite Governor Andrew Cuomo granting localities permission to open beaches in time for Memorial Day, the city has no plans to change that in the "near term," according to the mayor.
After suggesting last week that beaches could be fenced off entirely, the mayor now says it’s “fine” for New Yorkers to sit in the sand — provided they don’t swim, barbecue, play sports, use public transit to get there, or congregate. De Blasio has said that NYPD officers and Parks Department police will be out enforcing the rules, including physically removing swimmers from the ocean.
The mixed messaging has frustrated Councilman Eric Ulrich, who represents the area where Ramirez died. He called on the city to prepare lifeguards to staff beaches as soon as possible because people will continue to defy warnings to not enter the water.
“I think that this tragedy should be a warning for the future because lifeguards just started training. The mayor very prematurely decided several weeks ago that they were going to close the beaches in New York City,” Ulrich said in a phone interview Saturday.
“It's very difficult to keep people off the sand and out of the water, and the mayor's people know that, and the parks department knows that,” he added. “This idea that they're going to close beaches and just allow people to have these summer strolls along the sand, it's just not practical.”
Meanwhile, state Assemblywoman Stacey Pheffer Amato, whose district covers Rockaway Beach, said she witnessed the rescue efforts and posted a Facebook video from the beach pleading people to stay away from the water:
“Again, the beaches are closed in New York City. There is no swimming, don't even go to your ankles, let's just play it smart,” she said. “Maybe by June the beaches will be fully open with our lifeguards, but this is a warning of what can happen even walking on the rocks and slipping and getting caught in the currents.”
Lifeguards are being trained now for a future opening -- the New York Times reported that “City lifeguards have been called into pools for their annual training and testing, said Henry Garrido of the lifeguards’ union, District Council 37. “They’re being trained to get ready to open the beach early in June,” Mr. Garrido said.”
De Blasio also reminded New Yorkers that fencing off the beaches remains an option.