Ocean City Today

Case closed in accidental beach death

OCPD determine woman sat in premade hole, but unable to unearth cause of collapse
By Katie Tabeling | Aug 24, 2017
Photo by: Katie Tabeling Ocean City Emergency Services Director Joe Theobald, left, Police Chief Ross Buzzuro, and Mayor Rick Meehan hold a press conference on the death investigation.

(Aug. 25, 2017) Ocean City Police closed its investigation into Ashley O’Connor’s death, and determined that she died when the beach hole she was sitting in collapsed and drowned her in sand.

“During the course of the investigation, we had numerous witnesses and sources of information. We looked through hours of videography and physical evidence, and we found nothing that led to a criminal nature of the death,” said Chief Ross Buzzuro during a Thursday morning press briefing.

O’Connor, 30, of Plano, Texas, died of suffocation sometime around 2 a.m. on July 31, Buzzuro said. Her body was found later that morning near Second Street after a man walking on the beach spotted a forearm and a bit of hair sticking out from the sand.

The hole, which police believe was previously made that day, was 3.5 feet deep and six feet wide. O’Connor was found in a seated position roughly 1.5 feet below the surface. Detectives were unable to conclusively determine what caused the hole to collapse.

“There are several possibilities that could have happened, and we worked with the Engineering Department to look into the nuances with sand in such incidents,” Buzzuro said. “On entering the hole, it could have collapsed. When she was in it, it could have collapsed, but we can’t discount that there were beach tractors in the area.”

Beach sweepers clean the sand nightly, starting around 11 p.m. at the inlet and work their way to the Delaware line. O’Connor had separated from her mother on the Boardwalk around 2 a.m., and went for a walk on the beach near Second Street. Limited surveillance camera footage showed O’Connor walking onto the beach, but not entering the hole.

“There were tractors in the area, and we can’t discount that the beach was smoothed in that area,” Buzzuro said. “The equipment is very heavy, and the vibration from equipment could have caused the collapse. She unfortunately is the only person that will know.”

Emergency Services Director Joe Theobald said that the Beach Patrol constantly warns the public that digging beach holes can quickly become tragic.

“They’re constantly monitoring [digging holes] throughout the day, and part of the training they go through is sand collapse excavation,” Theobald said. “The government’s been diligent in their efforts … I don’t know what else can be done that we haven’t done already.”

The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Baltimore ruled O’Connor’s death accidental, and as such, a comprehensive toxicology report was not completed, according to press statements. Buzzuro said that her blood alcohol content was “beyond the legal limit of driving a vehicle,” which is .08 in Maryland.

“I’ve seen a lot in my time here, but nothing like the tragedy that happened that day,” Mayor Rick Meehan said. “Ashley O’Connor and her family are in my thoughts and prayers.”

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