VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) – Police say a woman died Wednesday after strong winds blew an anchored umbrella into her chest at the Oceanfront.
Police have identified the woman as 55-year-old Lottie Michelle Belk, of Chester, Virginia. It has been determined that Belk’s death was accidental and was caused by penetrating blunt force chest trauma.
According to authorities, dispatchers received an emergency call around 5:07 p.m. for a woman in cardiac arrest on the 33rd Street beach.
“That was so freakish. We’ve never heard of anything like that,” said Barbara Seldomridge, who says the winds knocked over umbrellas all day Wednesday. “As they were flying, everyone was trying to catch them to help the individual get their umbrellas back to their specific area.”
Police say medics found the woman suffering from a life-threatening injury. Belk died at a local hospital.
Witnesses said the umbrella rolled down on the sand for 10 to 15 seconds before impaling Belk.
“We saw a runaway umbrella that was end over end flipping on itself,” said Terry Bouchard, a tourist visiting from Florida. “It was traveling quickly, the umbrella, it was very windy and it had picked up momentum from rolling in the wind.”
Karen West Moton, a close friend, says Belk was in Virginia Beach for her recent wedding anniversary and her upcoming birthday.
Moton says Belk, an Army veteran, leaves behind her husband and two daughters.
“She loved the beach and she loved being outside,” said Moton. “I don’t understand why they didn’t remove the umbrellas from the beach because of the wind. I don’t understand it. It breaks my heart to know that she is gone.”
WISH-TV’s sister station WAVY learned Thursday the umbrella involved in the death is owned by Sunrise Beach Services, a Miami-based company that has provided rental services at the Oceanfront for about a decade.
Perry Boucher, the owner of Sunrise Beach Services, wouldn’t talk specifics, but says there are policies in place for dealing with umbrellas and other beach equipment in strong winds.
Boucher says he has launched an internal investigation to determine if the company could have done anything different to prevent the deadly situation.
Wind gusts at the time of the accident were between 20 and 25 miles per hour.