Tourist Who Died on Ocean City Beach May Have Fallen Into Hole Someone Else Dug

Dozens of people have suffocated in collapsed holes in sand across the country, a Harvard Medical School professor said

The hole on the beach in Ocean City, Maryland, in which the body of a 30-year-old woman was found, may have been dug by someone else and left behind in violation of beach rules.

It is "very possible" that the hole in which Ashley O’Connor was found dead was made by someone else, Ocean City Police Department spokeswoman Lindsay Richard said Thursday.

O’Connor, who was visiting Ocean City from Plano, Texas, with her family, walked onto the beach about 2 a.m. Monday.

A beachgoer spotted an arm above the sand about 6:30 a.m. and called police.

A medical examiner ruled O'Connor's death an accident and say she suffocated. It's still unclear whether O’Connor entered the hole willingly or fell into it. Police previously said they're looking into the possibility that after O'Connor was inside the hole, it was covered by a tractor used to comb debris from the beach. 

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 $1,600 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 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. 

Maron said he thinks people don't realize how dangerous holes in the sand can be. 

"One of these events occur and they’re so dramatic and unexpected and people are asking themselves ‘How could this have happened? But it’s not a freak accident,” he said. 

If you witness a sand collapse, call 911. But first-responders often can't act quickly enough. Removing the sand from around a person without injuring the person is a delicate task.  

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, as WTOP reported. The outlet was first to report that O'Connor may have fallen into a hole dug by someone else.

Someone can be ordered to leave the beach for digging a hole "of a size which could engulf and bury a person," city ordnance says.

If the hole inside which O'Connor died was dug by someone else, that person violated the rule, the police department spokeswoman said. 

Anyone with information for police is asked to call 410-723-6604.

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