Editor’s note: This story has been updated after the family’s attorney gave a corrected dollar amount.
MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (WBTW) — A Maryland family will receive $20.7 million following claims that a family member drowned because lifeguards focused on renting beach umbrellas instead of safety in 2018, according to the family’s lawyer.
The plaintiffs were listed as Maswaet Abel, who the lawsuit said was the fiancé of Zurihun Wolde at the time of Wolde’s drowning death.
The defendants were listed in the lawsuit as Lack’s Beach Service, the city of Myrtle Beach, and “John Doe lifeguard.” However, the city was dismissed from the lawsuit before the trial, spokesman Mark Kruea said.
Abel and his family went to the beach in August in front of the Sea Crest Oceanfront Resort, where Lack’s Beach Services lifeguards were renting umbrellas and beach chairs, according to the lawsuit. The beach service and the city have a contract where the company provides lifeguards in exchange for being able to rent out equipment.
The lawsuit claims that on Sept. 30, 2016, the United States Lifesaving Association wrote a letter to the city “specifically warning about the dangers presented by combining lifesaving acts with commercial activities like renting beach chairs for money.”
The family also claims that the city or company never told them that the National Weather Service had issued a high alert for rip currents in the Myrtle Beach area.
The family’s lawyer Chris Pracht spoke with News 13.
“The way the beach operations were being handled in the city of Myrtle Beach and in this area were quite different than they’re handled in any other municipality, around the country, and in a concerning way. It became very evident to me fairly quickly that public safety was being sacrificed for greed and for money,” Pracht said.
Wolde and his four children were caught in a rip current, and he struggled to save two of his children, according to the lawsuit. When he called for life, no lifeguards responded. Other people on the beach tried to help when his body made it to shore, but the lifeguard on duty didn’t try to rescue him.
“Our hope is that with this verdict that the city of Myrtle Beach will finally, after decades of ignoring this issue, step up and do the right thing,” Pracht said.