"These fatalities serve as a tragic reminder of the life-saving
value of personal flotation devices," said auxiliary spokesman Wayne
Four of the five people killed apparently were not wearing life
jackets, known as PFDs, an acronym for personal flotation devices.
Two men and one woman, all from the same neighborhood in
Bloomington, Minn., died after their small aluminum pleasure boat
collided with a moored empty rake barge on the Minnesota River. The
boaters fell into the river and were sucked underneath by the swift
current near the Interstate 35W overpass.
There were lights at each end of the barge, but it was not
well-illuminated, authorities said. The victims' boat had
navigational running lights but no spotlights.
The accident took place on an industrial stretch of the river
that is the site of several shipping terminals.
A sign at the boat launch reads: "Caution. Barge traffic is heavy
near this access. Federal and state laws require that you yield the
right of way to barges."
The victims were identified as Melissa R. Burns, 25, Thomas J.
Schwake, 24, and the boat's owner, Michael J. Rimnac, 30, according
to the Dakota County sheriff's office.
Two fishermen heard the crash and attempted to rescue one of the
men by throwing a rope to him but had to back out after the current
began sucking the anglers under the barge.
But by then "the boat had already been sucked underneath,"
recalled one of the anglers, off-duty firefighter Andrew Wolfram.
"It happened that quickly."
Wolfram and his fishing partner, Anthony Voight, aboard a 17-foot
Alumacraft with a 75-horsepower engine, then found Burns downstream
floating face down. They pulled her into the boat, started CPR and
brought her to a boat launch, where rescue workers took over in an
unsuccessful attempt to revive her.
The fishermen then spotted Schwake's body and also pulled it from
Authorities praised the efforts of the two fishermen, both of
"They did everything they could to save the lives of the victims,
and they worked in a calm and purposeful manner," said Dakota County
Sheriff Don Gudmundson.
Several agencies, including members of Division 11 of the Coast
Guard Auxiliary's 8th District Western Region, responded to the
scene. Sonar detected what was believed to be a boat and body under
one of the moored barges.
A tugboat the following morning moved the moored barges, allowing
the remains of the wrecked boat to surface.
Searchers were hampered by dark, fast-moving water. Rimnac's body
was not found until the following afternoon, some 18 hours after the
accident, a short distance downriver from the crash scene.
The preliminary investigation indicates that besides the lack of
use of personal flotation devices, speed and alcohol were also
contributing factors in the accident, according to Gudmundson.
Emergency personnel at the scene reported an "odor of alcohol" on
the victims as they attempted to resuscitate them, the sheriff said.
"Not having life jackets on is a factor, naturally -- it's a
factor in a majority of boating fatalities in Minnesota and all
across America," the sheriff told reporters. "Welcome to the
Minnesota boating season."
The Hennepin County medical examiner's office says Burns had
drowned. Schwake's cause of death was listed as drowning and blunt
force head and neck injuries. A ruling on Rimnac's cause of death
was not immediately released.
[to top of second column in this article]
Two other Minnesota boaters also died in accidents over the
Jose E. Garcia, 41, of Minneapolis drowned after falling out of
his boat on Lake Minnewashta in Chanhassen, Minn. A "good Samaritan"
pulled him from the lake after a 911 caller alerted authorities that
a man had fallen overboard.
Carver County sheriff's deputies arrived at a public dock area to
find Garcia's boat circling the water with Garcia's daughter and her
friend on board. The small girls were brought safely to shore.
Also on Saturday, retired St. Paul deputy fire chief Timothy
Verros, 56, of Aitkin, Minn., died after a 17-foot Lund Runabout he
was driving collided with an 18-foot Crestliner on Lake Mille Lacs,
several hundred yards offshore of the north-central Minnesota lake.
The passenger in Verros' boat was treated at a hospital for
non-life-threatening injuries. The four people in the other boat
suffered minor injuries and were not taken to the hospital.
The Aitkin County sheriff says alcohol was not a factor -- nor
was excessive speed. One or both operators simply failed to see the
other in the dark.
The Aitkin County sheriff's office said the operators of both
boats were returning to shore after fishing. Both boats had bow and
stern lights on at the time of the collision, as required by both
state and federal law.
Kim Elverum, water safety coordinator with the Minnesota
Department of Natural Resouces, explained in an interview with KARE-TV
that the lights are not so the boat driver can see, but be seen.
"When you're boating you basically have to rely on your night
vision," he said. "It's much like flying an airplane. You don't rely
on the landing lights until you're ready to land."
Police reports say the former deputy fire chief was wearing his
life jacket when he died.
Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty signed a bill into law last month
that requires children under 10 years of age to wear a life jacket
while boating on state waters. That makes Minnesota the 41st state
to pass such a law requiring children on boats to wear personal
Current Minnesota law requires readily accessible flotation
devices for everyone on board, but it didn't state until now that
the life jackets must be worn.
A first violation will initially result in only a warning, but
after May 1, 2006, there will be no warnings given and the penalty
will be a petty misdemeanor.
Known as the Grant Allen Law, it is named after a 5-year-old boy
who drowned when he fell from a boat on a Chisago County lake in
2003. He was not wearing a life jacket.
The United States Coast Guard Auxiliary is composed of uniformed,
nonmilitary volunteer civilians who assist the Coast Guard in all of
its varied missions, except for military and direct law enforcement.
These men and women can be found on the nation's waterways, in the
air, in classrooms and on the dock, performing Maritime Domain
Awareness patrols, safety patrols, vessel safety checks and public
The United States Coast Guard Auxiliary was founded in 1939 by an
act of Congress as the U.S. Coast Guard Reserve and redesignated as
the auxiliary in 1941. Its 30,000 members donate millions of hours
annually in support of Coast Guard missions.
[U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary