An 18-year-old Maspeth man drowned while swimming in rough surf off Rockaway Beach on Friday, Aug. 6. First responders pulled Matthew Wiszowaty from the ocean and rushed him to St. John’s Episcopal Hospital, where he died two days later.
The teenager was swimming off Beach 101st Street on a section that was not open for swimming, where warning signs and red flags are visible to all beachgoers. The area from Beach 93rd to Beach 102nd is closed to the public due to erosion and the closest lifeguard was two blocks away.
“Our deepest sympathy goes out to the family and friends of Matthew Wiszowaty,” an NYC Parks spokesperson said. “This unfortunate incident is a painful reminder that New Yorkers should never enter the water in closed sections of our shoreline, where lifeguards are not present. Our lifeguards have an incredible safety record of zero drownings during operating hours in the past seven years. We remain just as committed to the health and safety of New Yorkers this summer as we have in the past.”
Earlier this month, Rockaway elected officials and community leaders called on the governor’s office to sign into law legislation from Assemblywoman Stacey Pheffer Amato that would create a commission to investigate best practices in preventing childhood drowning.
“No matter where you live or what your background is, you should feel safe going into the water or know when not to go into the water,” Pheffer Amato said. “This bill is for the children who lost their lives, their families and every other person in New York state who we must protect. This bill can lay the groundwork for protecting a whole generation of children from preventable fatality due to lack of knowledge on water safety, and it gives me hope for a safer future.”
There are 14 miles of public beach in New York City, and the Parks Department reminds beachgoers to never swim in undesignated areas because they are not safe.
“We are lucky enough to have some amazing swim education here on the Rockaway Peninsula, but it is beyond time that we as a state take on the responsibility of expanding access to these vital programs into communities all across New York,” state Senator Joseph Addabbo said. “Proper swim education can mean the difference between life and death in the water, and this legislation will allow people of all ages, but especially children, the opportunity to learn to swim and will save lives.”
Assemblyman Khaleel Anderson said water safety programs save lives.
“Each year, we grieve heartbreaking but often preventable drowning tragedies that statistically surge in the summer months,” Anderson said. “Particularly in beachside communities like Far Rockaway and throughout New York state, we must invest in high-quality water safety programs to prevent these avoidable drownings. The creation of a Water Safety Commission is also a matter of racial justice as Black and brown communities suffer disproportionately from the lack of access to water safety and swimming education.”
Woodside resident Shawn Slevin founded the Swim Strong Foundation with a mission to save and change lives through water safety education and teaching swimming skills.
“The answer to keeping our children safe from drowning and water-based accidents is not to keep our children away from water,” Slevin said. “It is to educate them about the nature, challenges and behaviors of different bodies of water so they can make decisions that will keep them safe in, on and around water. It is also to teach them swimming skills to navigate water with competence and confidence so they can enjoy all of the benefits being in water brings to our lives.”
She added that her foundation supports the legislation which will create a commission to prevent childhood drownings by evaluating and developing programs to educate children on water safety and teach them swimming skills.
“All members of our community should be able to take advantage of Rockaway’s largest public facility, the beach,” said Clare Hilger, member of the Water Safety Coalition and secretary of the Rockaway Beach Civic Association. “Improving our community means educating our community about water safety. We need to focus on communities that have previously been ignored and empower children with the knowledge to save lives.”