Man drowns in river at Milford Beach, in a season without lifeguards

Milford. Jeury Arias Castillo, 20, from Paterson, N.J., died on Sunday afternoon, according to the coroner’s office. The National Park Service warns there are no lifeguards at the beach this year because of the high risk that COVID-19 presents to rescuers.

24 Jun 2020 | 03:07

By Frances Ruth Harris

A young man drowned in the Delaware River at Milford Beach on Sunday afternoon.

Kevin Stroyan, Pike County’s Chief Deputy Coroner, told the Courier that the victim is Jeury Arias Castillo, 20, from Paterson, N.J. He said those who came to the beach with Castillo didn’t speak English, so there were language barriers. One in the Castillo’s group tried to translate and communicate with rescuers.

Terry Christensen, EMT and secretary for The Milford Fire Department, said first responders were dispatched to the river rescue late that afternoon. Local fire departments with boats, including Dingmans, Westfall, and Matamoras, were called to the scene, said a fire department source who did not want to be identified.

A person at the scene contacted the Courier and stated in an email that no lifeguard was present, and that there were no safety floats separating the river’s shallow and deep areas. He said he believed that if these were in place, the young man would not have died.

“Three volunteers who knew the victim tried frantically to find him, pull him out of the water and revive him,” said Edwin Valles in his email. “However, due to the dangerous currents, there was no sign of him and you only heard the screams and the cries of the young man’s relatives to these brave volunteers, to keep searching for him. These young volunteers put their life in harm’s way, in trying desperately to find their relative or friend.”

He said a witness called 911 and that the “park ranger and fire department arrived 15 minutes later, too late to save the young man.”

Milford Beach is managed by the National Park Service.

Joe Salvatore, Acting Deputy Superintendent of the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area and Middle Delaware National Scenic and Recreational River, said two large signs at the beach warn users there is no lifeguard present, and that the river has sudden drop-offs, underwater obstacles, and a strong current. It also warns people never to try to swim across the river. Warnings about the lack of lifeguards are also posted on the fee booth as visitors enter the park, and included in a June 18 press release sent to the local media outlets, he said.

“Due to hiring delays caused by COVID-19 and to concerns for the safety of lifeguards this year, the park made the choice not to hire lifeguards for the 2020 summer season,” Salvatore said in an email. “Lifeguards would experience a high risk of exposure to those employees during a water rescue. One event that helped the park change its mind about having lifeguards this summer is that some lifeguards withdrew their names from consideration due to the risk of exposure. Ropes, which are not in place this year, delineate a swimming area near the shore.”

He said Law Enforcement Rangers (LERs) patrol all areas of the Delaware Water Gap Recreational Area, including Milford Beach. “LERs are responsible for patrolling all 70,000+ acres of land and water within the park’s boundaries, spanning two states,” Salvatore said. “There are not enough LERs to station any of them at one particular site in the park full time.”

He said aids to navigation are installed along the river corridor, but there are no floats within the swimming area.

“The National Park Service conducts Boards of Review after each fatality to determine causes of each incident and determine what steps would be necessary to prevent similar events in the future,” Salvatore said.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct Castillo’s hometown. It is Paterson, N.J., not Patterson, N.Y. The Courier regrets the error.

Lifeguards would experience a high risk of exposure to those employees during a water rescue. One event that helped the park change its mind about having lifeguards this summer is that some lifeguards withdrew their names from consideration due to the risk of exposure. Ropes, which are not in place this year, delineate a swimming area near the shore.”