Sur­vivor of El Toro II sink­ing 25 years ago re­calls heroic ef­forts

The Enterprise - - Front Page - John Whar­ton jwhar­[email protected]­news.com Twit­ter: @JohnEn­tNews

Twenty-five years ago this week, on a rainy Sun­day af­ter­noon, first re­spon­ders quickly flew and mo­tored out from south­ern St. Mary’s to a fish­ing boat car­ry­ing about two dozen peo­ple that was fall­ing apart in the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay.

The sink­ing of the El Toro II on Dec. 5, 1993, left three men dead, and prompted fed­eral hear­ings, civil lit­i­ga­tion that was set­tled, a trial end­ing in the boat own­ers’ ac­quit­tal on crim­i­nal charges, and ex­haus­tive re­search and find­ings on emer­gency ra­dio com­mu­ni­ca­tions, com­mer­cial wa­ter­craft in­spec­tions and the cor­ro­sion of fas­ten­ers on wood-hulled ves­sels.

Teresa Shipe Du­mas and her hus­band, Robert, liv­ing in Me­chan­icsville, were aboard the El Toro II when its half-day head­boat ex­cur­sion turned into a fran­tic ef­fort to get back to shore, and its hull boards came loose while slam­ming against the waves.

Now 62, Du­mas re­mem­bers the heroic re­sponse by fire and res­cue vol­un­teers, state and mil­i­tary au­thor­i­ties, and hospi­tal staff that fol­lowed the last mo­ments she and 45-year-old Robert Bernard Shipe shared to­gether, be­fore a he­li­copter’s dive crew pulled her away and onto the air­craft, as he stayed with oth­ers clutch­ing a life ring af­ter ev­ery­one had aban­doned ship.

Ear­lier, aboard the boat, “I can still see him bail­ing that water … and not mak­ing any head­way, be­cause it was fill­ing up the boat,” she said last week. “He was some­one who would do any­thing he could to take care of some­body.”

Shipe was ac­com­pa­nied dur­ing that ef­fort by 19-year-old Edgar Cur­tis “Ed” Phillips Jr. of Piney Point, the boat’s first mate. “I think very of­ten about that young nice man,” Du­mas said, not­ing that Shipe also “made sure Ed­die was OK.”

But when Du­mas was among the first peo­ple put aboard the he­li­copter, af­ter about 90 min­utes in the cold De­cem­ber wa­ters, Shipe, Phillips and 64-year-old Ho­race Ira Smith of Wash­ing­ton, D.C., were among the peo­ple still hold­ing onto the ring.

Du­mas and Shipe “had wrapped our an­kles around each other. I re­mem­ber that feel­ing of be­ing pulled apart,” she said, and when they spoke of their love for each other, “We didn’t know it would be our last words.”

From the he­li­copter, Du­mas looked out, she said, and “We made eye con­tact. He was look­ing up like ‘It’s all go­ing to be OK.’”

She was at the hospi­tal in Leonard­town when she was told that her hus­band had died, and later learned that Phillips also had died, as had Smith.

Shipe “and Ed­die were the last two out of the water. They let every­body else [be res­cued] in front of them.” Du­mas said.

“They were he­roes that day. The ones who made the ul­ti­mate sac­ri­fice were Bob Shipe and Ed­die Phillips,” she said, also re­mem­ber­ing the loss of “poor Mr. Smith.”

Af­ter­ward, Du­mas’ life fo­cused on the well-be­ing of the cou­ple’s teenage daugh­ter. Du­mas re­mar­ried three years later, and lives near the county line in Char­lotte Hall. She makes vis­its each De­cem­ber to Shipe’s grave in West Vir­ginia or where they boarded the El Toro II at St. Jerome Creek, a trib­u­tary of the bay where Daniel Ja­son Brown, who was at one time mar­ried to Du­mas’ daugh­ter, drowned three years ago.

“My grand­chil­dren [also] lost their dad in the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay,” Du­mas said. “Who would have ever thought?”

Keep cheer here on town’s First Fri­day

The De­cem­ber First Fri­day event to be held this evening in Leonard­town will fea­ture hol­i­day sea­son spe­cials at par­tic­i­pat­ing mer­chants and restau­rants, and the monthly au­di­ence-par­tic­i­pa­tion Drum Cir­cle with the SoMar Drum­mers to be held from 7 to 8 p.m. at the St. Mary’s County Arts Coun­cil.

A “Keep Cheer Here” theme pro­motes shop­ping lo­cally and sup­port­ing small busi­nesses that give back to the com­mu­nity year-round through help­ing the lo­cal econ­omy, cre­at­ing jobs and op­por­tu­ni­ties, and pro­mot­ing lo­cal mu­si­cians and artists through free con­certs and other events in the town.

For more in­for­ma­tion, go on­line to the “Leon- ard­town First Fri­days” Facebook page.

Help law of­fi­cers feed the hun­gry

The Lex­ing­ton Park Com­mu­nity Ori­ented Polic­ing (COPs) Unit is host­ing its se­cond food drive from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. this Satur­day, Dec. 8, at the St. Mary’s Square shop­ping cen­ter, be­tween Ol­lie’s and Weis Mar­ket, off Great Mills Road in Lex­ing­ton Park.

Along with col­lect­ing non­per­ish­able food items for the Lex­ing­ton Park food pantries, the COPs Unit will also be col­lect­ing dona­tions of baby food, di­a­pers and wipes for the Preg­nancy Care Cen­ter of South­ern Mary­land.

For more in­for­ma­tion, send email to sher­iff’s Cpl. Tim­o­thy Sny­der at tim­o­thy.sny­[email protected] stmarysmd.com.

Re­mem­ber those lost to homi­cide

The 17th Silent An­gel Memo­rial hon­or­ing peo­ple “whose lives were lost by the hands of an­other,” an in­vi­ta­tion states, will be held at 6 p.m. this Sun­day, Dec. 9, at the Bay Dis­trict fire­house lo­cated at 46900 South Shangri-La Drive in Lex­ing­ton Park. For more in­for­ma­tion, call Ste­fa­nia Bianco at the sher­iff’s of­fice at 301-475-4200, ext. *8104, or send email to ste­fa­nia. [email protected]

Dona­tions sought to sup­port up­com­ing Shop with a Cop

The 17th an­nual Shop with a Cop Christ­mas event, cospon­sored by the Op­ti­mist Clubs of St. Mary’s County and Fra­ter­nal Or­der of Po­lice Lodge No. 7, will take place Satur­day, Dec. 15.

Chil­dren from dis­ad­van­taged homes are nom­i­nated for par­tic­i­pa­tion by teach­ers and se­lected by the St. Mary’s school board. The chil­dren will be picked up at their homes by lo­cal, state and fed­eral law en­force­ment au­thor­i­ties.

Each child is al­lot­ted money to spend how­ever they choose, whether it be for them­selves, for fam­ily mem­bers or on house­hold items. Af­ter meet­ing at the Wilde­wood shop­ping cen­ter, each child and law of­fi­cer travel to the Wal­mart store in Cal­i­for­nia, and af­ter they fin­ish shop­ping, they go to the county fair­grounds, where Op­ti­mist club vol­un­teers serve a huge break­fast and wrap their gifts.

Dona­tions for the event re­ceived by next Mon­day, Dec. 10, will help de­ter­mine how many chil­dren can par­tic­i­pate.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS PHOTO BY CAR­LOS OSORIO

Teresa Shipe Du­mas, ac­com­pa­nied by Leonard­town lawyer Philip H. Dorsey III, tes­ti­fies in 1993 at a U.S. Coast Guard hear­ing in Bal­ti­more about the sink­ing of a fish­ing boat that cost her hus­band and two other men their lives.

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