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Maine man, 18, killed in sand collapse on New Jersey beach; dad recalls his ‘quirky’ personality

Emergency personnel worked to recover a man who was killed in a sand hole collapse at the end of East Bonita Way in the Ocean Beach III section of Toms River Tuesday evening.Thomas P. Costello / USA TODAY NETWORK

An 18-year-old Union, Maine, man killed in a tragic accident on a New Jersey beach was remembered by his father Wednesday as a “tech nut” with a “quirky” personality whose self-confidence allowed him to ignore what others may have thought about him.

Levi Caverly was on a Toms River, N.J., beach Tuesday digging a hole with his 17-year-old sister when the sand collapsed on both of them, authorities said. A frantic rescue effort resulted in the safe recovery of the teenage girl, but rescuers were not able to save her older sibling, officials said.

“Levi was himself. He was odd. He was quirky. He was not real concerned with what others thought,” his father, Todd Caverly, wrote in a statement he provided to the Globe on Wednesday. “He knew Jesus Christ. He was involved in the worship team at church, and was the drummer in a teen/young adult worship band. He was a tech nut and loved to program.”

In a Facebook posting Todd Caverly wrote: “Levi Caverly, there are not words to express my love for you.”


The tragedy happened at the Ocean Beach III beach near Seaview Road in Toms River around 4:09 p.m. Tuesday, according to social media postings by the Toms River Police. Officials from the resort could not be reached for comment.

The Caverly family had spent the day at the beach Tuesday, police said.

Levi Caverly was killed in a tragic accident on a New Jersey beach (Todd Caverly)Todd Caverly

“The family was visiting from out of town and spent the afternoon at the beach,” police wrote. “The teens were reportedly digging a large hole when it collapsed and trapped both of them.”

Police and first responders from nine departments, public works crews from Lavallette, and the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office responded to the accident.

Responders used their hands and soft tools to avoid any further injury as they dug for the siblings, Brian Kubiel, chief administrator of Toms River Fire District 1, said by telephone Wednesday. Kubiel estimated the hole was around 8 to 10 feet deep.


There was a front-end loader nearby to keep sand away from the hole, but it was not used to dig, Kubiel said. He said one concern for responders was high tide because the victims were close to the water, but high tide did not come in during the effort.

Jenna Fitzgerald, whose daughter is Levi’s sister-in-law, wrote in an e-mail that Levi Caverly was “a really special person [who was] kind and funny … He loved his family and was very religious, spending most of his free time helping his family on various projects, and assisting his church family when they were in need.”

Fitzgerald wrote that Levi and his younger sibling were devoted to each other. “She loved her brother very much, and lost him in front of her very eyes,’' Fitzgerald wrote. “She will be forever scarred by this awful event.”

Caverly was a 2021 graduate of Mid-Coast School of Technology in Rockland, Maine, where he competed and won a bronze medal for Mobile Robotics Technology, according to The Courier-Gazette in Camden.

School director Bobby Deetjen described his former student as “an incredible young man full of joy and passion.” Deetjen said all of Caverly’s siblings attended the school.

Caverly excelled in everything he did, he said.

“He was definitely committed to every project that he did with us and was always a very happy student and kids really enjoyed his presence and being around him,” Deetjen said.


He said he was devastated to hear about his death and that it’s “always the worst news as school personnel when you find out a student has passed away.” He offered his condolences to Caverly’s family and said they are “giving” and “caring” people.

“I think that’s the biggest thing,” Deetjen said. “And then one of the hardest things is that they are incredible people that … just were there to make a difference.”

In his statement, Todd Caverly referenced the family’s Christian faith, citing a passage from the book of Matthew.

“The truth is that Scripture says that all our days are numbered. That there is nothing we can do to add a single hour to our life,” Todd Caverly wrote. “He knew that.”

Todd Caverly also thanked people for praying for his family and his son.

“Friends do not neglect or drift from the most important decision of this life. Your world can be forever changed in a second, with no warning, and no second chance,” he wrote. “Do not neglect your salvation.”

Toms River Mayor Maurice B. “Mo” Hill said no lifeguards were on duty because the summer season has not yet begun. He also said stormy weather and the replenishment of sand on the beach created what is known as “sugar sand,” which brought about dangerous conditions.

“Tragically, this incident happened off-season when the beach was unprotected by our staff of lifeguards,’' the mayor said in a statement. “When our lifeguards are present they ... stop patrons from digging and fill the holes. ... I implore all of our visitors, if you’re going to dig, dig only knee deep.”


Hill said the town is mourning Caverly’s death. He applauded first responders for their rescue effort.

“I know that they are devastated that they could not rescue Levi,” he wrote. “The joy of saving the sister is mixed with heartbreak.”

Hill added: “The Jersey Shore is a place where families come to make memories, bond and enjoy all that the beach has to offer. This tragedy is a reminder to us all to be vigilant for our loved ones safety in surf and on sand.”

John R. Ellement can be reached at john.ellement@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @JREbosglobe. Matt Yan can be reached at matt.yan@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @matt_yan12. Steve Annear can be reached at steve.annear@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @steveannear.