The investigation into how a tourist from Texas was buried alive on the beach in Ocean City, Maryland, has concluded -- and police said Thursday that they believe the victim voluntarily sat in a hole in the sand.
Ashley O'Connor was found dead on the beach early July 31. She walked onto the beach alone about 2 a.m. and then went missing. More than four hours later, someone walking along the beach saw an arm showing above the sand. O'Connor, who was visiting from Plano, Texas, with her family, suffocated, a medical examiner determined. She was 30.
After an exhaustive investigation, police believe that O'Connor voluntarily entered the hole in the sand, WTOP's Nick Iannelli said on News4.
"O’Connor walked onto the beach in the area of 2nd Street alone and sat in a hole approximately 3 to 4 feet deep," police said in a statement issued Thursday. "At one point, the hole collapsed while O’Connor was inside, ultimately causing her death."
What's still unclear, though, is who dug the hole or why the hole collapsed.
“How the hole collapsed, she unfortunately is the only person that will know,” Ocean City Chief of Police Ross Buzzuro said at a news conference Thursday morning, according to WTOP.
Alcohol was a factor in O'Connor's death, police believe.
“The autopsy revealed that alcohol was present in Ashley’s system,” Buzzuro told WTOP. Her blood alcohol level was high enough to exceed legal limits for driving, he said.
A full toxicology report on O'Connor will not be conducted because her death was ruled accidental, police said.
O'Connor was a newlywed who had recently started a business with her wife, a GoFundMe page created to help with her wife's expenses says. The account had raised $5,100 toward a $5,000 goal as of Thursday afternoon.
It’s not as uncommon as you might think for people to die of suffocation after holes dug into sand collapse, Harvard Medical School professor Dr. Bradley Maron previously told News4.
From 1997 to 2007, Maron documented 52 instances in which people became buried in holes in sand that collapsed. In 31 of these cases, the victims died, as he wrote in a letter to the editor published in The New England Journal of Medicine.
Since 2007, the medical professor said he has heard of an additional 25 instances, from reading media reports and speaking with victims.
If you're buried in sand, you have as little as three minutes to escape before suffering permanent brain damage.
Ocean City has been at the forefront of trying to prevent sand accidents, Maron said.
Ocean City law prohibits digging holes in the sand and leaving them unfilled.