A man drowned trying to rescue a friend from the Wicomico River near Mechanicsville in St. Mary’s County, Md., over the weekend.
C.J. Kelly turned 24 Friday and was celebrating with friends by swimming at a spot they’ve been familiar with their entire lives.
“They all went out to the end of the pier and jumped off,” friend Jessica Eller said. “The water wasn’t too rough. All of a sudden tides changed, the water started getting choppy, and C.J. tried swimming back in.”
C.J. had a bad shoulder, his friends said, and with the undertow, it was hard for him to stay above water. His friends rushed to his aid, and Chris Staley, a volunteer Cobb Island firefighter, got to him.
The current proved too strong for both men, and they disappeared.
“The waves were probably a good foot, foot-and-a-half,” Eller said. “The riptide, the undercurrent was unusually strong.”
Rescuers from at least five departments, including the fire department at which Staley and his father volunteered, searched for the two men and found their bodies about six hours later.
“Our chief happened to be on the boat and a number of our young men … and, of course, at that particular time they had no idea that it was one of our members that was one of the victims,” said Jim Jackson, of the Cobb Island Volunteer Fire Department.
There were no lifeguards at the pier, but there were warning signs.
Friends told News4 that both victims were strong swimmers.
“It was a total shocker, and then when I heard that Chris had jumped in to try to save him, that wasn’t even a surprise because that’s the kind of person he was,” C.J.’s cousin Mandy Hunter said. “He was always there for anybody.”
Staley’s death followed the death of his brother in an accident five months ago.