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Three dead or presumed dead in Maryland boating accidents over weekend

Salisbury police recover unidentified adult male from Wicomico River on Monday morning.

Three people died or are presumed dead in boating accidents on Maryland waters this weekend — more than in the previous five months of the year combined.

A recovery search for the bodies of two anglers whose boat capsized Sunday on the Potomac River in Frederick County went into its second day, and a man drowned in Anne Arundel County Saturday after jumping from his boat to retrieve a hat, Natural Resources Police spokeswoman Candy Thomson said.

All told, five people have died or are presumed dead in boating accidents on state waters this year. The other two, a pair of duck hunters, drowned on the Severn River in January.

Most boating deaths tend to happen in the summer months, when more people are out on the state's waters, but the deadly weekend followed a seamless Memorial Day holiday weekend, during which authorities responded to only a handful of minor incidents statewide, Thomson said.

The two fishermen who disappeared Sunday, Lawrence Walter Grey Jr., 62, of Brunswick and Robert Evonne Lee, 51, of Frederick, went out about 5 a.m. in a 14-foot boat on the Virginia side of the U.S. 15 bridge. Five hours later, a passerby called police to report that the boat had capsized and the two men were in the water.

Natural Resources Police, Brunswick Police, the National Park Service and Maryland State Police responded and searched until dark Sunday night. They resumed the search Monday at 9 a.m., and had not found the bodies as of Monday afternoon. The search, which included divers and canine units, was hampered by storms Sunday and the river running high, Thomson said.

The boater in Anne Arundel County, Joseph Vincent Rossi, 47, of Edgewater, had taken his family out on the Chesapeake Bay in a rented boat Saturday, and they were on their way home near Turkey Point when wind blew the hat into the water and he jumped in to retrieve it, Thomson said. He hadn't put the 25-foot boat in neutral, and his wife had no boating experience and couldn't stop it from moving away, Thomson said. A pair of good Samaritans were able to stop the boat, but efforts to rescue him were unsuccessful.

Maryland also had five boating fatalities this time last year. The state ended the year with 21 deaths, a 20-year high. The state has averaged about 15 deaths per year in the last five years, according to Natural Resources Police data.

But it's difficult, if not impossible, to predict how fatal any given year could be on the state's waters, Thomson said. Weather and gas prices are two factors, she said, but "there's no magic formula."

"We can't look at beginning of year and say, 'Wow this is going to be a bad year,'" she said. "We had all hands on deck for Memorial Day Weekend, and not a blessed thing happened."

A rainy spring kept many Marylanders cooped up inside, and some may have wanted to avoid crowded Memorial Day boat traffic, she said. "Who knows? It's hard to say."

Officials are reminding boaters to wear life jackets — 18 of the 21 who died last year weren't, and neither were the three confirmed fatalities this year.

"We can't stress enough wearing life jackets and setting yourself up for the best possible outcome when there is an accident," said Petty Officer 2nd Class David Marin, a Coast Guard spokesman. "You're not going to be able to reach and grab your life jacket and throw it on. Like a seat belt, the likelihood of throwing on your seat belt in an accident — it's not going to work very well."

Natural Resources Police also urge boaters to take safety measures such as bringing a phone, noisemaker and flares, and letting people know where they're going and when they'll be back.

"Let somebody know where you're going," Thomson said. "Let somebody know the registration and description of your boat, so State Police and Coast Guard helicopters can look for you."

A jet skier broke down near the shore of Aberdeen Proving Grounds in Harford County and was stuck overnight with no way to contact anyone, Thomson said. After a search, the jet skier was found Sunday.

Baltimore Sun reporters Andrew Dunn and Tim Prudente contributed to this article.

cmcampbell@baltsun.com

twitter.com/cmcampbell6

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