Five years ago, a woman vacationing at the Virginia Beach Oceanfront was killed by a flying beach umbrella.
Lottie Michelle Belk, 55, of Chester, was on the beach near 33rd Street with her family in June 2016 when a strong wind gust lifted an anchored beach umbrella from the sand and hurled it toward her. The umbrella penetrated Belk’s chest; she died a short time later at a hospital.
As a result of her accident, and others like it, Virginia Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine have been pushing for years for increased beach umbrella safety measures.
Earlier this week, they called for product safety regulators to include beach umbrellas in their testing protocols. The plea was made in a letter to ASTM International — a nonprofit that often works with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission to develop technical standards for a wide range of materials, products, systems, and services.
The organization last year began testing the safety and durability of patio and weighted-base umbrellas in various wind conditions, but excluded beach umbrellas, according to a news release from the senators.
“Given the grave danger posed by beach umbrellas we feel it is imperative that ASTM include beach umbrellas in any new test methods,” the senators wrote in their letter.
From 2010-18, about 2,800 beach umbrella-related injuries were treated in emergency rooms across the country, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. The majority were caused by wind-blown umbrellas.
Among those hurt were a man blinded in his left eye in 2015 by the shaft of a flying umbrella in Bethany Beach, Delaware.
In 2019, a teen was hospitalized after being stabbed in the shoulder by a wind-swept umbrella in Gloucester, Massachusetts. That same year, a toddler at Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, narrowly missed being impaled by an umbrella. The incident was captured on video.
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission recommends that beachgoers spike their umbrella in the sand, then firmly rock it back and forth until it’s buried at least 2 feet deep. The umbrella also should be tilted into the wind to keep it from blowing away, according to the commission.
Ed Quigley, the man blinded by a flying umbrella, created a beach umbrella safety website and recommends beachgoers use umbrellas with a vented fabric top, and a sturdy shaft and spokes. Quigley also suggests using a product that uses sand to put a large amount of weight at the base of the umbrella.
Jane Harper, 757-222-5097, firstname.lastname@example.org