- The Washington Times - Monday, July 15, 2002

HURON, Ohio (AP) They were no more than knee-deep in the water, seemingly safe from the churning waves being whipped up by an unusually strong wind blowing across Lake Erie.
Nine friends had just arrived at Nickel Plate Beach to enjoy a hot, sunny summer day on the sand.
Amy Anderson, 22, was wading in the surf a few yards from their beach blankets when a wave knocked her off balance and the strong current quickly yanked her under. She came up screaming, and her fiance and three friends fought against the waves to save her.
Miss Anderson was eventually rescued by firefighters, but the four men never made it out.
"In 15 minutes, I lost a brother, a brother-in-law and two friends," Talon Smith said.
Blustery winds coming down from Canada on Wednesday had stirred up white-capped waves not usually found along Ohio's Lake Erie shore. It was so rough that charter boats canceled their fishing trips and authorities that morning closed Nickel Plate Beach, about 50 miles west of Cleveland, to swimmers.
Miss Anderson, 22, and her friends had piled into two cars for their trip to the beach that day. They were told at the gate that they couldn't swim, but they decided to stay.
Fliers handed to visitors warned that "if the waves look dangerous they probably are."
Miss Anderson's group spread out beach blankets and took some pictures, but after a few minutes, the lure of the water on a bright, 80-degree day was too much.
Asking a park worker if the waves really were too dangerous, the group was told "just be careful," Mr. Smith said.
As the waves reached 4 to 6 feet, most of the beachgoers didn't go into the water. Parents and children played in the sand.
Miss Anderson told authorities she was little more than ankle deep in the water when the waves knocked her down, the current then pushing her farther from shore.
Her fiance, Steve Cupec, yelled for help.
She heard their cries but had no idea where they were. She somehow stayed above water until two off-duty firefighters tugged her toward shore and she was picked up by rescuers in a boat.
The firefighters didn't know the four men were still in the water until the men's friends ran toward them screaming.
Eight firefighters then tied themselves together with a rope and went back in, but they found no sign of Talon Smith's younger brother, Jehrod, 19; Kyle Kroetz, 29; Mr. Cupec, 27; and Matthew Smith, 21. Three of their bodies were found Saturday, the fourth yesterday.
"I know he was a hero. He went in to save a girl," said Mr. Kroetz's mother, Sandra.
Mr. Kroetz had been an Eagle Scout and his friend Matthew Smith was a high school track athlete, relatives said, speculating that those facts may have made the men believe they could save Miss Anderson.
"That's probably why he thought he could do this, because he was in very good shape," Frank Smith said of his son.
Talon Smith, who didn't go with the group but later watched part of the search for the bodies, said he couldn't understand why people were allowed on the beach at all.
"They should have closed the whole thing down," he said. "When I looked out and saw that water, I knew somebody screwed up."
City leaders defended their decision to keep the beach open, saying everyone was warned about the dangers. City Manager Mike Tann decided quickly Wednesday morning that it wasn't safe for swimmers and ordered the water off-limits.
"I could see the undertow churning," Mr. Tann said. "I just knew we would have problems."


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