Widowed survivor of fishing boat's sinking in 1993 remembers heroic efforts

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.

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 “Leonardtown 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.snyder@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. The memorial program was founded by Eileen Bildman, whose son was murdered in November 2001 at a house party in Drayden. From the onset, the program has been assisted by staff at the St. Mary’s sheriff’s office, issuing the invitation to the event intended “to provide support and comfort to the survivors of homicide by gathering with others who understand their grief.”

The loss of her son gave Bildman “this opportunity to give back to the community, as her son would have wanted,” according to a sheriff’s office release. “This memorial brings families and friends together during the holiday season, and helps various organizations in St. Mary’s County throughout the year.”

For more information, call Stefania Bianco at the sheriff’s office at 301-475-4200, ext. *8104, or send email to stefania.bianco@stmarysmd.com.

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 and entertain them with a puppet show.

At the end of the event, the children are returned to their homes by the police officers.

Donations for the event received by next Monday, Dec. 10, will help determine how many children can participate.and checks may be mailed to Shop With a Cop Inc., P.O. Box 2336, Leonardtown, MD 20650.

More WARM drivers sought throughout winter

St. Mary’s Department of Aging and Human Services continues to seek additional volunteer drivers for Wrapping Arms ‘Round Many, or WARM, to assist participants in a winter emergency shelter program for homeless individuals in the county.

The county agency coordinates transportation for the WARM program, including recruiting and scheduling of the volunteer drivers. Drivers must be 18 or older and have a valid driver’s license. The volunteers are given access to a county-owned van, and each day the program is operational through March 23, the volunteer drivers are divided into evening and morning shifts. Evening drivers pick up WARM guests at the Three Oaks Center in Lexington Park at 5:30 p.m. and take them to a selected church for the night, and morning drivers arrive at that church by 7 a.m. the next day to drive the guests back to Three Oaks.

The WARM program provides safe shelter and hot meals to homeless citizens during the coldest months of the year. More than 50 churches currently participate in offering assistance to the participants.

To volunteer, contact Ursula Harris by calling 301-475-4200, ext. 71658, or by sending email to ursula.harris@stmarysmd.com.

Holiday guide highlights festive finds at local farms

The Holiday Farm Guide, published annually by the Southern Maryland Agricultural Development Commission, highlights local farms’ holiday season offerings of unique gifts, festive foods and beverages, plus holiday entertainment for the whole family.

The guide connects consumers with regional farms, as well as wineries and distilleries, aquaculture and seafood producers, restaurants and stores that offer a wide variety of products grown and produced in Southern Maryland, just in time for the holidays and through the winter months.

This year’s guide showcases over 80 farms and agriculture-related businesses in St. Mary’s, Anne Arundel, Calvert, Charles and Prince George’s counties. Listings feature choose-and-cut Christmas trees, quality meats including turkeys, award-winning wines and spirits, freshly harvested oysters and seafood, farm-made cheese, baked goods, jams and pickles, unique woven accessories and clothing, plus farm tours and tastings.

The guide can be found online, to view or download, at the “Get the Guides” link of the commission’s website, www.SMADC.com. Free copies of the printed guide are available in limited quantities at participating farms, public libraries and regional welcome centers. For more information, and to find a full list of pick-up sites, check the “What’s New/News and Announcements” tab on the website.

Applications for the commission’s newest round of a Southern Maryland Farmer Mini-Grant program, for a variety of projects ranging from the purchase of foundation livestock or plant stock to marketing and promotion activities, will be accepted until Jan. 1, 2019.

For more information, go online to the commission’s website at www.SMADC.com, and click the links to “Farmer Resources” and “Farm Grants.”

5th-graders invited to take part in Arbor Day poster contest

The Maryland Department of Natural Resources and Forest Conservancy District Boards have invited all Maryland fifth-graders in private and public schools to participate in the annual Arbor Day Poster Contest.

The theme for 2019 is “Trees Are Terrific … and Forests Are, Too!” All entries need to be delivered to a local Maryland Forest Service office by noon on Feb. 1.

Students are encouraged to share their appreciation for Maryland’s forests and trees through original works of art. Poster sizes must be no smaller than 8½ by 11 inches and no larger than 22 by 28 inches. They must be drawn in acrylic, crayon, ink, marker, paint pens, regular or colored pencil, tempera paint or watercolor.

Posters will be judged on a county level and then submitted to the Maryland Urban and Community Forest Committee to compete at the statewide level. A select panel will then choose the top three winning posters that will receive tree plantings at the artists’ schools first place will win 15 trees; second place will receive 10 trees; and third place will get five trees. Teachers will be notified by March 20, and school plantings will be scheduled in the spring. For more information, call Anne Gilbert at 410-260-8510.