It may prove to be a legal stretch, but a lawsuit filed this week over the death of a Sea Isle City reveler at the 2009 Polar Bear Plunge gives town officials up and down the Shore a chance to consider their role in safeguarding hard-partying visitors who help fuel the local economy.
The parents of Tracy Hottenstein, 35, a Conshohocken drug company sales rep, accuse Sea Isle officials of looking the other way during a winter-weekend event that’s more about tippling than taking a quick dip in the chilly surf.
After an afternoon and evening of drinking, Hottenstein died from hypothermia in the frigid temperatures. In addition to charging that town officials countenanced public drunkenness, the Hottensteins’ lawsuit says officials failed to provide the woman with medical help in time to save her life because they misdiagnosed her hypothermia symptoms.
The courts, no doubt, will parse what amounts to a complex set of legal claims.
To their credit, investigators with the Sea Isle police and the Cape May County Prosecutor’s Office once again will be out at the annual Polar Bear Plunge seeking witnesses who might have details about the still-mysterious final hours of Hottenstein’s life.
Out of one family’s pain and loss, though, the best outcome could be that more Shore towns take a hard look at whether, indeed, they’re taking too much of a hands-off attitude about partying in their communities.
Certainly, winter events like the Polar Bear Plunge call for extra vigilance in patrolling a community’s streets. Despite the expected mild weather for this year’s event, set for Saturday, the usual temperatures leave little room for error if intoxicated visitors become overexposed to the cold.
Beyond that, it’s not unthinkable that Shore communities would consider additional steps to make sure their visitors get home safely. Consider the more sedate spring-break scene in places like Fort Lauderdale, Florida, after they cracked down on once-rowdy visitors. Why not at the Shore?
Maybe it’s beefed-up police patrols, or a town-watch approach that would put more eyes on visitors. Whatever works.
The Shore communities thrive on tourism, of course. As a bottom-line concern, then, it cannot be good for any town’s image to suffer a tragic and senseless death of a visitor who journeys there for nothing more than a good time.