TOMS RIVER — As a family grieves and rescuers reel from a tragedy, officials are reacting to the death of an 18-year-old visitor Tuesday afternoon by warning others against digging deep holes in the sand.

Levi Caverly, of Union, Maine, and his 17-year-old sister used Frisbees to dig a hole 8 to 10 feet deep on unguarded Ocean Beach 3. The hole collapsed around 4:10 p.m., according to Toms River police.

Caverly appeared to be crouching down when the sand collapsed around them. His sister was standing and was able to be rescued without injuries.

Ocean Beach Volunteer Fire Co. Chief Drew Calvo said it was hard to estimate the width of the hole as it had collapsed by the time he arrived.

'Levi was himself'

"There are no words," their father Todd Caverly wrote on Facebook.

He later wrote that he was on his church's worship team and the drummer in a teen/young adult band.

"Levi was himself. He was odd. He was quirky. He was not real concerned with what others thought. He knew Jesus Christ," Todd Caverly wrote. "He was a tech nut and loved to program."

Rescue effort on Beach 3 in Toms River 5/17/22
Rescue effort on Beach 3 in Toms River 5/17/22 (CBS New York)
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Tough rescue for sons, dads, uncles, brothers

The Ocean Beach firefighters who led the rescue effort took it hard, according to Chief Drew Calvo, who said he gave his kids a hug when he got home Tuesday night.

"It's tough. We've got sons, dads, uncles, brothers, grandfathers all in the department. All of us have somebody in the family who can relate to this loss closely. We just keep checking in on each other, I've been doing that all morning with my guys. We do have the opportunity to establish critical stress debriefing," Calvo said.

Calvo discourages digging as the sand can be unpredictable and shift, causing a collapse.

"Not only are they a tripping hazard but also a collapse hazard," Calvo said. "If you have to dig a hole try to stay away from the waterline."

'They just collapse on people'

Cape May Beach Patrol Capt. Marty Franco said that his lifeguards keep an eye out for digging. He said no hole should be lower than waist deep on the smallest child. Franco also discourages tunneling, which can take a lifeguard's attention away from the water.

"That's what people want to do. They want to dig a hole here, dig a hole there and then tunnel underneath and that's where a lot of the danger comes. It's like a bridge kind of thing and they just collapse on people."

Franco said people digging deep holes is a problem at many Jersey Shore beaches although there have not been many serious collapses.

"But sand is sand and what happened in Toms River can happen here in Cape May," Franco said.

Crowd gathers at Ocean Beach 3 during rescue effort 5/17/22
Crowd gathers at Ocean Beach 3 during rescue effort 5/17/22 (Jersey Coast Emergency News)
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Lifeguards rarely on duty before Memorial Day

Toms River police spokeswoman Jillian Messina said that no lifeguard was on duty Tuesday.

At this time of the year, Franco said it is rare for lifeguards to be on duty at private or public beaches. With temperatures in the 90s expected this weekend, Franco said some beaches will lifeguards on duty, but not all.

Toms River Mayor Maurice "Mo" Hill said that the collapse is a reminder for beachgoers to be vigilant on both the surf and sand.

"Let us remind all of our beachgoers, visitors and locals to never dig more than knee-deep in the sand. With all of the storms and beach replenishment we've had, beach sand is not compact. Some call it 'sugar sand,'" Hill said.

Levi's mother Angela Caverly told NJ.com the family was heading home Wednesday afternoon from their first New Jersey vacation. His funeral likely will be at a church in Rockport, Maine, she said.

Toms River Beach Recovery

Dan Alexander is a reporter for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at dan.alexander@townsquaremedia.com

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