Leaders Call for Change After Fifth Drowning Death


On Sunday, August 4, Maintain Joshua Odozi waded into the waters of Jamaica Bay at Beach 88th Street’s Bay Breeze Park to cool down on a hot summer day with friends. He didn’t get to go home that night.

Disaster struck when after 5 p.m., the local boy who just turned 15 this summer was dragged out into deeper waters as the tide went out. Members of the Community Boathouse, who utilize this kayak launch area for paddle trips, were nearby when the incident occurred. “I think he went far out because of the high tide. There’s a big drop there. You go from standing in five feet of water to eight or nine feet,” Bill Gehlhaus, one of the witnesses said. Odozi began to panic and started waving his arms and scream for help as friends tried to save him. Boathouse member, John Pender, jumped into the water and tried to rescue the boy. He was able to grab on to him, but as the boy continued to struggle and pull Pender under, Pender couldn’t hold on. The boy’s hand slipped away. Other Boathouse members and neighbors called 911 and joined in the search for the boy before first-responders arrived, but Odozi was nowhere to be seen. Rescue efforts continued into the night until the rescue became a search mission. Odozi was presumed dead.

After spending the morning searching the waters of Jamaica Bay, on Monday afternoon, search crews recovered Odozi’s body, as devastated family and friends got confirmation of the news they didn’t want to hear.

Odozi is the fifth person to die by drowning off of Rockaway’s waters this summer. This latest tragedy comes just a week after 18-year-old John Munoz drowned in the ocean on Beach 59th Street. About a month after, a couple, Keylon Ramsay and Umarie Chamble, died after drowning in the waters off Beach 9th Street. And seven weeks after, a 25-year-old woman drowned in Riis Park. All drownings occurred when lifeguards weren’t present. The beach drownings occurred after lifeguards left for the day at 6 p.m. Odozi drowned in an area that never has lifeguards, in a location where No Swimming signs are posted.

Now the community is calling for change. On Friday, August 9 at 5 p.m. on the Beach 73rd boardwalk, members of The Heart of Rockaway are holding a press conference to call for more to be done, such as increased signage, a swim safety awareness campaign and longer lifeguard hours. In the meantime, elected officials are already calling for more to be done. After Odozi’s drowning, State  Sen. James Sanders announced that he’ll be meeting with government officials to discuss options such as increased signage, a water safety educational campaign, and more access to public pools and swimming lessons.

“I am deeply and profoundly saddened by the drowning deaths that have occurred in Far Rockaway over the last month, and my thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families,” Sanders said. “I want to make sure that no other family has to experience such heartbreaking loss.”

Councilman Donovan Richards is also calling for more to be done, including extended lifeguard hours and more pools around the city. On Twitter, he posted, “We can do better as a city. Swim education, access, and extended beach hours can make a difference. Let’s set a goal of building at least 100 public pools by 2030. We have to start somewhere!”