Visitor dies off Abel's Hill Beach
William K. Laidlaw Jr., 66, of Columbus, Ohio, a long-time seasonal visitor to the Island here with his family on vacation, went for a swim with his wife Friday afternoon. He died after he was pulled from the water off South Abel's Hill Beach in Chilmark on the Vineyard's south shore. Mr. Laidlaw may have experienced an as yet unidentified medical problem, according to a family member.
His death was the second swimming related fatality of an Island visitor in less than one week. On August 1, Lawrence Shedd, 49, of South Danbury New Hampshire drowned at Quansoo Beach in Chilmark, less than two miles east of Friday's accident (August 6, "Swimmer drowns at Quansoo").
Mr. Laidlaw and his wife Donna Laidlaw were swimming together when Mr. Laidlaw suddenly became unresponsive and appeared to be suffering from a medical problem, according to Scott Laidlaw of Whately, Mass., the couple's son. Ms. Laidaw attempted to keep her husband's head above water and called out for help. A group of beachgoers immediately responded and helped the couple from the water.
At approximately 4 pm Friday, Tri-town rescue personnel and lifeguards from nearby Lucy Vincent Beach responded to a report of two swimmers in distress. When police and rescuers arrived, both swimmers were out of the water, and a beachgoer had already begun CPR on Mr. Laidlaw, according to a Chilmark Police press release.
South Abel's Hill Beach is located along a two-mile strip of barrier beach that runs the length of Chilmark Pond. A short dirt road off South Road leads to a parking area. Beachgoers wade across the pond or use small boats to gain access to the barrier beach.
Rescue personnel used an all terrain vehicle to transport Mr. Laidlaw to the pond, then ferried him by boat to a waiting ambulance.
Mr. Laidlaw, was pronounced dead at Martha's Vineyard Hospital at 5:28 pm, police said.
A spokesman for the office of the Massachusetts medical examiner said the cause of death awaits further tests and is not expected to be determined for at least six weeks.
Speaks to the Island
Marc Tabah, a long-time seasonal resident from New Canaan, Conn., and an experienced windsurfer, was enjoying a lovely beach day. "It was a beautiful, benign type of afternoon," he said. "The tide was low and there was a little bit of a shore break but nothing dramatic."
He estimated there were about 50 to 60 people on the beach at the time. A friend, alerted by the Laidlaws' daughter, turned to Mr. Tabah and said somebody needed help in the water.
Mr. Tabah grabbed a surfboard and went out as fast as he could. He said Taylor Gould, a collegiate swimmer and trained lifeguard, was in the parking lot. "Taylor ran from the parking lot, through the pond, over the dunes, sprinted out and swam to where we were, all in about three minutes," he said.
The two men got Mr. Laidlaw onto a rescue board brought out by another beachgoer. "It took a great deal of effort because he was in difficult straits already," he said. "And we paddled him in as fast as we could and immediately began CPR."
Mr. Tabah said the rescue was a collaborative effort. He said one unidentified beachgoer came out with a boogie board and handed it to Ms. Laidlaw. Chilmark lifeguards from nearby Lucy Vincent Beach also arrived quickly to assist.
Mr. Laidlaw was transported from the water's edge to the pond on an ATV, in a sled, as CPR was continued. He was placed in a small boat and then transferred to a waiting ambulance.
Describing the strenuous effort, Mr. Tabah said, "It's not the greatest place to have a dramatic medical issue."
Mr. Tabah said the closely knit Abel's Hill community has done its best to provide comfort to the Laidlaw family. "It's obviously a gorgeous place, but the big difference is how wonderful everybody is here," he said. "It sort of speaks to the Island."
Martina Mastromonaco, Chilmark beach superintendent, heard the emergency call. She immediately contacted her lifeguards at Lucy Vincent Beach and asked that they assist in the rescue effort.
Lifeguards Robert Brown, Ben Rossi, Todd Hitchings, Emma Tobin, Max Ellithoupe, and Evan Schwab responded. Several ran the entire distance to the accident scene.
For the young lifeguards, all under the age of 20, it was the first rescue they had participated in that required CPR. Ms. Mastromonaco, Tri-Town Ambulance Service coordinator, said it is not an easy experience. "I am very, very proud of them," she said.
In the aftermath, Zeke Wilkins, a veteran EMT and member of the Tri-town squad, spoke to the young rescuers. He said all EMTs must deal with the emotional aftermath of sudden death.
Mr. Wilkins said he reassured them that they had done everything they could and performed admirably. "They are remarkable individuals for their ages," he said.
The Laidlaws, along with their son and daughter and three grandchildren, had gathered for a family vacation on the Vineyard. They were staying in a rented house in the Abel's Hill neighborhood.
"They started out with friends on the Vineyard and fell in love with it," Scott Laidlaw said. "They have been coming here for 20 years." He had high praise for the rescue effort.
Mr. Laidlaw said that Taylor Gould was leaving the beach when people called him back. "He got there fast and got out there fast and organized the people swimming out," he said. "He knew what to do. I'm not sure my father would have stood a chance, but if he would have, Taylor would have made it possible."
Mr. Laidlaw added that there were other people, including the young Lucy Vincent lifeguards, who ran down the beach and went out to help. "We don't know their names," he said, "but we are immensely grateful that they put themselves at risk to help my father. Saying thankful doesn't encompass it."
William Laidlaw was the executive director of the Ohio Historical Society. The society issued a statement that said Mr. Laidlaw would be remembered as a leader and advocate for preserving Ohio's heritage. "He was a good and decent man who inspired others by inviting new ideas and involvement in the organization," said Richard T. Prasse, chairman of the society's board of trustees.
The family is planning a September memorial service in Columbus.