2008-07-03 / Front Page

Newport man drowns in turbulent waters off Fort Wetherill

By Adrienne Downing

Rescue workers search on land and from the water for Derrick Cazard of Newport on Monday afternoon. John D'Amico, below, of Coventry, was a hero when he jumped into the turbulent waters to try to save Cazard. Photos by Jeff McDonough Rescue workers search on land and from the water for Derrick Cazard of Newport on Monday afternoon. John D'Amico, below, of Coventry, was a hero when he jumped into the turbulent waters to try to save Cazard. Photos by Jeff McDonough Jamestown rescue workers pulled the body of Derrick Cazard of Newport out of the waters off Fort Wetherill early Tuesday evening just slightly more than 24 hours after he drowned at the state park.

Cazard was visiting the fort Monday afternoon with several friends when he jumped about 15 feet into the water below.

John D'Amico of Coventry was visiting the park with his wife when he witnessed the incident happening nearby.

"There were four kids who were playing around for about 15 to 20 minutes at the top of the cliff," D'Amico said. "They were talking about how gnarly it would be to jump in and they would go to the edge, but at that point none of them had the courage to actually jump." D'Amico said around 4 p.m., one of the tourist boats from Newport came by. "It was blowing its horn and the people were waving at him and cheering him on. That is when he got his bravado up and jumped in and the people on the boat clapped," he said.

According to D'Amico, Cazard was alert and tried to climb the face of the rocks in an attempt to get out of the water. "He treaded water for about five minutes and after he tried a few times to get out where he jumped in, he swam around into the crevice," he said.

After Cazard's friends tried unsuccessfully to pull him from the water, they threw him a rope with a life preserver attached, D'Amico said, but Cazard was unable to hold onto it.

D'Amico climbed down the cliff and went into water in an attempt to rescue the stranded man. "I knew he wasn't going to make it out without help. I couldn't just stand there and not do anything," D'Amico said. He was able to get his arm under the man, who was unconscious by then, but after battling the current for several minutes D'Amico was unable to bring Cazard ashore.

"A big wave came and took us both and pulled me under. I couldn't reach him anymore and I knew I had to get out because the waves were getting really strong," D'Amico said.

While D'Amico was in the water, a witness called 911 at 4:24 p.m.

Jamestown fire fighter Capt. Keith Godena said when he got the call it was that, "Someone had jumped off the rocks and couldn't get up, then en route it was revised to face down and unresponsive."

Upon arriving at the scene, Lt. Pete Rodrick slipped and fell 25 feet. He was transported to Newport Hospital, where he spent the night.

"He is doing fine now," Fire Chief Jim Bryer said, "but he is pretty sore, banged up and bruised."

Rescue workers, including the Jamestown Fire, EMS and police departments, the Department of Environmental Management, and the U.S. Coast Guard worked until nearly 8:30 p.m. Monday evening before calling off the search because of darkness.

"There were swells of 10- to 12- feet that were making it very difficult for our diver, David Gladding, to get to him," Deputy Fire Chief Howard Tighe said. "The Coast Guard assessed the situation as too dangerous for their divers to go in from the helicopter," Tighe added.

"Their helicopter would come in for awhile and then pull out and our guys would go back in and take over. Our last visual was at 7 p.m. and by 8:15 we knew for the safety of our personnel that we had to call it off for the night," Chief Bryer said.

According to Tighe, the search resumed at 8 a.m. on Tuesday morning, but was suspended because of rough seas at around 1:30 p.m. Three divers from the Jamestown Police Department entered the water at around 5 p.m. and after a search of the area where they thought Cazard was located, they found him on the way out of the area.

"He was only located about 50 feet from where we thought he was, about 100 feet from where he went into the water," Bryer said.

The fire chief said that all of the workers involved in the effort performed admirably. "It is tough in a situation like that where there is such a tragic end. Once it became a recovery mission, we have to consider the safety of everyone involved. But, as a parent, I wanted to do everything we could to have the right outcome for the family."

Both Tighe and Bryer hope another tragedy can be avoided. "We have to go out to either Beavertail or Fort Wetherill far too often to rescue someone, and a lot of those times are serious injuries or tragic outcomes," Tighe said. "These are potentially dangerous areas, and people should pay attention to the signs and the conditions around them."

If a serious situation should arise, Tighe said, it is important that trained personnel are called in early. "We have people who are trained in these kinds of situations, and we still have injuries. We appreciate when civilians try to help, but we don't want people to wait to call because they think they can handle a situation. Call at the first sign of trouble. We would much rather get somewhere and have to turn around and come back than get there too late."

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