The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission has completed its report on the two-boat accident in Bull Bay on April 12, and the FWC is holding both Jesse Smith and Capt. Steve Ahlers at fault.
Smith, of Port Charlotte, was travelling southwest in a gray 18’ open motorboat. He turned to the south to enter a blind, narrow passage between two mangrove islands when he spotted Ahlers’ yellow boat heading in the opposite direction.
Ahlers, of Boca Grande, was traveling northwest towards the same passage, with three passengers on board his 20-foot yellow boat.
Andrew Haines and his 10-year-old son, from Phoenix, Ariz., along with Neil Sheehan of Evanston, Ind., were on Ahlers’ boat for a fishing trip.
Both vessels were on full plane when the operators saw one another, and both took immediate evasive action.
Smith slowed and turned to starboard, while Ahlers accelerated and pulled to port, which meant they were heading in the same direction.
The two boats collided, with Smith’s boat hitting Ahlers’ boat at an 80° angle just forward of the console, where Haines was seated. Haines was ejected from the boat, and received severe injuries.
Ahlers himself received a head injury, with a large cut over his left eye, fractured orbital bones and extensive bruising.
Sheehan, who was seated next to Ahlers, got cuts and bruises, while Haines’ son was uninjured.
Due to disorientation following the accident and head injury, Ahlers was unable to give his position in the water. Lee County Sheriff’s Officer Lt. Jeff Corkhill went immediately to a local marina and requested the assistance of a civilian vessel, owned and operated by Capt. Charlie Coleman. Coleman was able to locate the accident, which was in shallow waters.
Lee and Charlotte County emergency services responded to the scene, and quickly ascertained that the water was deep enough for their boats to maneuver.
Haines was secured to a backboard and transported to Boca Grande Marina. From there he was taken by ambulance to the emergency landing zone and was flown by helicopter to Lee Memorial Hospital with punctured and collapsed lungs, a fractured rib, pelvis and back, as well as anemia and shock from blood loss. He has since been released and is undergoing rehabilitation in Arizona.
Ahlers was transported by ambulance to Fawcett Memorial Hospital in Port Charlotte and treated for his injuries.
It is estimated that $5500 of damages was done to the boats, $2500 to Smith’s and $3000 to Ahlers’.
The investigating officer found that both operators were traveling at excessive speed heading into the blind passage.
Citations were issues to Smith and Ahlers for “violation of navigation rules resulting in an accident with serious bodily injury/death, not reckless.”
The charges could lead to $500 fines for each man, along with a possible jail term of up to 60 days.
The Coast Guard is also investigating the incident, as Ahlers is a USCG licensed captain and was on a charter at the time of the accident.
E-mail (required, but will not display)
Notify me of follow-up comments
Click for a larger view