The three Prince George's County men who drowned in an Anne Arundel boating accident Tuesday evening were out for an afternoon of sport oystering, something they had done many times before, according to a friend.
Amy Rhine was reminiscing about 40-year-old James Fisher as she helped his College Park family prepare for his funeral. Rhine said that she worked for Fisher, owner of American Turf, a small sod-harvesting enterprise. She said the other two men killed in the accident, Douglas Rawley, 24, and his brother Michael Rawley 22, also worked for Fisher.
Rhine said she attended Northwestern High School in Hyattsville with the Rawleys. She said that Douglas was married and his younger brother was engaged to be married soon. The Rawley family did not wish to comment.
Rhine said that early Tuesday afternoon, the men "had gone out to get oysters--for fun." The three men took Fisher's boat, named "The Jane Smith" in honor of Fisher's wife, to the South River-Ramsey Lake area, where oystering is popular this time of year.
Officials from the Anne Arundel County and Maryland Natural Resource police said that the boat accident occurred about 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at the shallow mouth of the South, just before the river merges with Ramsey Lake and the bay.
Police said yesterday they still do not know what caused the boat to sink and the men to drown in the 4-to-5-foot deep water. Though shallow, the water in that area can be pretty treacherous, police said. Maj. Harvey Cook, Eastern Shore commander for the marine police, said that when his officers arrived on the scene the cabin of the 25-foot cruiser had been "crushed by the wave conditions."
The local fire department first heard of the accident from Ronald E. Engelmeyer, a local resident who was walking his dogs along the beach. "My German shepherd was trying to get into the water; she heard the men," said Engelmeyer, 43, a retired D.C. firefighter. Engelmeyer said that he heard the men yelling for help once he moved away from the noisy surf.
Engelmeyer said that he went back to his house, called the fire department and then returned to the beach in his car, shined the lights on the water and saw the boat about 600 feet from the shore. He said he could see that two of the men were still in the partially sunken cabin, and the third man, who had a light in his hand, was floating in the water nearby. He said that the wind was high and waves were blowing over the top of the boat.
Engelmeyer said he attempted to reach the men in a small boat, but was unsuccessful because the boat kept hitting the bottom. He was able to lead marine police to the stranded men. The entire incident lasted less than an hour, police said.
Ambulances transported the three men to Anne Arundel General Hospital, where they died a short time later. The state medical examiner's office in Baltimore said the cause of death in each case was drowning and hypothermia.
Amy Rhine said the family was waiting for the Maryland Natural Resources police to explain to them what caused the accident. Rhine said that she believed Fisher's boat was in good condition because, "his boat was his pride and joy."
Attempts to haul the half-submerged vessel from the water have been suspended because several of the bottom boards have been destroyed, making it impossible to to pump the water out, according to Maj. Cook.
Cook said it is very easy for people to panic and drown in shallow water, adding that the water does not have to be freezing to cause hypothermia, which makes movement difficult. Hypothermia is a condition in which the body loses heat; it can lead to unconsciousness.