A family beach outing turned tragic Friday in Wading River after a Bellport man drowned while trying to save his 10-year-old stepson, who had been pulled out to sea during a tidal change.
Two good Samaritans were able to save the boy, who was clinging to the inflatable raft his stepfather had brought out to him, and took the shivering child safely back to land. But a search and rescue that ensued for 35-year-old Edwin Barahona was unsuccessful.
His body was found the next morning.
According to witnesses, Mr. Barahona was fishing in the Long Island Sound as the 10-year-old played in the shallow water near Wading River Creek, just east of the power plant property, on Friday evening.
The boy’s mother was taking pictures of her son in the water when the outgoing tide suddenly swept him several hundred feet out to sea.
Mr. Barahona grabbed an inflatable pool raft and ran into the choppy water to save his stepson, but the water was rough and, though he reached the boy, it was obvious the pair was holding on for dear life.
Neighbors soon heard the mother’s screams.
“[The mother] had dialed 911, but she didn’t know where she was,” said Doris Leech, whose home is on the creek. She added that the boy’s mother had passed out twice during the ordeal.
Her neighbor Jim LoScalzo said he heard Ms. Leech’s voice and the words “drowning” and “911” and sprang into action.
“I grabbed the canoe and I ran down to the water line,” he said.
Mr. LoScalzo and Ms. Leech’s husband, Bob, set off in a canoe to reach the boy and Mr. Barahona, who were holding onto the raft. But by the time they arrived, Mr. Barahona was nowhere to be found.
He said it was apparent that Mr. Barahona was weighing down the raft and he might have let go to save the boy.
“All I could see was the kid’s head out of the water,” Mr. LoScalzo said. “If we were there maybe three seconds sooner, [we might have saved Mr. Barahona].”
Mr. LoScalzo said he grabbed the boy’s hand and tried to pull him aboard the canoe.
“He almost pulled me in the water, he was so scared,” he said.
The boy was brought to shore and given a T-shirt and a towel as emergency workers on the scene began looking for his father.
“We wrapped him up and he just sat there staring at the water,” Mr. LoScalzo said. “The kid just sat there quiet and he just started crying.”
Riverhead Town Police, as well as the U.S. Coast Guard scoured the waters for the next two hours looking for Mr. Barahona.
The Mattituck, Rocky Point, Sound Beach, Miller Place, Riverhead, Ridge, Wading River and Mount Sinai fire departments all reportedly had dive teams on the scene. The search was called off around 11 p.m. and resumed during daylight hours the following morning.
The original 911 call came in just before 9 p.m., said Riverhead Police Lieutenant Dave Lessard.
Mr. Barahona’s body was found about 9 a.m. Saturday, about 100 yards west of the jetty, Lt. Lessard said.
Mr. LoScalzo said many people don’t realize how powerful the tide can be in the area near where the creek is at its widest. Ms. Leech noted that a fisherman had died near the creek 15 years ago and that better warnings should be posted near the creek’s mouth.
“This is the second time I’ve watched somebody drown,” she said. “I have begged Riverhead Town to put up a [warning] sign.”