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No one should see a picture of someone they love in this story collection. That one moment that changed our families forever could have been prevented. A life jacket. A propeller guard. An aware boat operator. An engine cut-off device. Learn from these stories and stay safe on the water. To request a print copy of this story collection, please contact outreach@safeboatingcouncil.org.

aaron@3x
Aaron Steely

 

Age 13
Greeley, CO
Boyd Lake

 

PWC + MOTOR BOAT COLLISION + PROPELLER STRIKE

aaron.

On a Colorado lake, July 14, 1996, 13-year-old Aaron was operating a personal watercraft (PWC) when it collided with a 19-foot ski boat. Aaron had been taught the rules, spent years with adults on PWCs and had been allowed to operate on his own that year. Aaron was not operating recklessly, nor was the other operator intoxicated. It is known, however, that the other boater did not see Aaron. After the collision, the boat operator turned the boat. The resulting suction pulled Aaron through the propeller. He did not survive.

 

Learn how the Steely family is turning their tragedy into a learning experience for all. They founded The Aaron Foundation to remember and honor Aaron’s life, and help our youth and parents make educated decisions on the water.

 

WATCH VIDEO
alex@3x
ALEX OTTE

 

age 13
lexington, ky
herrington lake

 

motor boat + DRUNK driver

alex.

On July 2, 2010, Alex was sitting on a personal watercraft (not running), 40 yards from where her mother was tying up their boat. A nearby bass boat was barreling down the lake. Alex let her mom know she saw it and would remain stationary. In seconds, the boat veered, hitting Alex at over 60 mph. On impact, the boat “climbed” the PWC, landing on top of her. Alex suffered a traumatic brain injury, a broken neck and loss of her leg, among other injuries. Alex survived, but endures ongoing painful surgeries. She is forever changed.

 

Learn about Alex’s mission to create a culture where driving drunk in a boat is as unacceptable as in a car.

 

WATCH VIDEO
andy-free-little-dude
ANDY FREE

 

age 9
EUFAULA, OK
LAKE EUFAULA

 

POWER BOAT + CARBON MONOXIDE

andy.

It was supposed to be a fun boating outing for the Free family at Lake Eufaula on June 6, 2020. The family has spent their entire lives on the lake, and they know all the boating safety rules and follow them.

 

By the end of the day, everyone was tired and ready to get home. The family didn’t know that carbon monoxide poisoning can easily be mistaken for the same symptoms as too much sun or dehydration. Other symptoms may include: headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting, chest pain, and confusion. Tragically, Andy’s life was cut short by a silent, odorless, and deadly danger – carbon monoxide poisoning.

 

The Free family urges boaters to be aware of the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. Traveling at slow speeds, or idling, can cause carbon monoxide to build up on the boat. The same applies to a tail wind, which may blow exhaust towards passengers. If you suspect carbon monoxide poisoning, seek immediate medical attention. Learn more how the Free family is honoring Andy at The Little Dude Ranch.

ashleigh@3x
ashleigh iserman

 

age 17
rochester hills, Mi
long lake

 

PWC + motor boat COLLISION

ashleigh.

On June 5, 2004, at her friend’s graduation party, Ashleigh was given the keys to a personal watercraft (PWC) to take out on the lake. The owner did not ask Ashleigh if she had a boating safety certificate (required by state law) or if she had experience operating a PWC. Ashleigh had neither. While operating the PWC, Ashleigh looked back at the tuber she was pulling. She was killed instantly when she collided head on into a boat. This was the first time, the only time, and the last time Ashleigh ever operated a PWC.

 

Learn how the Iserman family is helping keep children and families safe on waterways. They founded the Ashleigh Iserman Boating Safety Foundation to be an advocate for responsible PWC owners and boating safety education.

 

WATCH VIDEO
bob-phyllis@3x
bob & phyllis kopytko

 

age 47 & 38
ELLICOTT city, MD
TABLE ROCK LAKE

 

motor BOAT + PROPELLER STRIKE

bob & phyllis.

June 11, 1994, Bob and Phyllis were enjoying their last day of fishing on what was a perfect 19th anniversary celebration weekend. Suddenly, the boat torqued hard right, throwing the captain away from the wheel and tossing everyone on board out to the left, with the boat circling like a shark. The hired captain had failed to wear his engine cut-off device. The propeller struck both Bob and the captain, as well as Phyllis. Neither the captain nor Bob survived. Phyllis sustained multiple injuries, including the loss of her arm.

 

Learn how this one day changed the lives of Phyllis and family and friends, and working with other advocates founded the group SPIN (Stop Propeller Injuries Now). They have reached out to hundreds of others struck by propellers to let them know they are not alone.

 

WATCH VIDEO
Brandon@3x
brandon fugate

 

age 18
dallas, tx
lake ray hubbard

 

fishing boat + drowning

brandon.

On November 29, 2008, Brandon and two friends set out to quickly check a trot line. On the way back, a front blew in with heavy winds, making the waters very choppy. Brandon and his friends were thrown from the boat into 42-degree water. All three boys survived going into the water. Brandon attempted to swim for help, but never made it. The other two were pulled from the water by a passing fisherman. Brandon was not found that night. His body was recovered 29 days later.

 

Learn how the Fugate family is educating the public on the importance of life jackets and honoring Brandon’s life through The BMF Project.

 

WATCH VIDEO
brian-nathan@3x
Brian & Nathan Keese

 

Age 36 & 8
Stockton, MO
Lake Stockton

 

Fishing Boat + Drowning

brian & nathan.

On March 27, 2010, 36-year-old Brian Keese and his 8-year-old son, Nathan, headed out for a fun day of fishing. An unexpected spring wind and thunderstorm popped up, catching the pair off-guard. Life jackets were on the boat, complying with Missouri boating safety laws which required jackets to be on board, but not worn unless under age seven. The boat capsized tossing both father and son into the cold water. Neither survived. Brian’s body would not be found until six weeks later and Nathan’s, two months later.

 

Learn how the Keese family is giving back and honoring Brian and Nathan’s lives through the Brian and Nathan Keese Water Safety Foundation. They have funded life jacket loaner boards in six states and educate others about boating safety.

 

WATCH VIDEO

 

connor@3x
CONNOR GAGE

 

age 15
north richland hills, tx
POSSUM KINGDOM LAKE

 

LAKE HOUSE + DROWNING

connor.

On August 31, 2012, Connor went to a friend’s birthday party at the lake and didn’t come home. At the lake house late in the day, the boys were allowed to swim. Around 8:15pm, while playing a game with his friends, Connor jumped from a high boat dock. He landed badly, and didn’t resurface. Life jackets were not required at this party, the sun had set, and the light was faded. No one could see or reach him. Forty minutes later, Connor was recovered by a dive team, but could not be resuscitated. Connor had just turned 15.

 

Learn how the Gage family is celebrating Connor’s life and helping people LiVe and LoVe buoyantly, on water and in life, through The LV Project.

 

WATCH VIDEO
david@3x
david civile

 

age 26
TINTON FALLS, NJ
shrewsbury river

 

kayak + windy conditions & cold water

david.

On November 17, 2010, David had purchased his kayak three weeks prior and felt confident having the flotation seat cushion on board he’d previously used canoeing. He had a false sense of security kayaking in a river, being athletic and a swimmer. David was unaware of the dangers of wind and cold water temperature. It was a sunny 65 degree November day, but the water was only in the 50s. He had purchased waterproof pants that morning to keep his legs dry. His remains were recovered two years later.

 

Learn how the Civile family is educating others about boater safety and saving lives. The David P. Civile Foundation for Boating Safety Awareness is dedicated to promoting boating safety, the importance and use of life vests and the knowledge of environmental factors.

Deborah@3x
DEBORAH BOLES

 

age 16
plano, TX
lake texoma

 

PWC + COLLISION

deborah.

July 4, 1998, Deborah joined two friends at a lake gathering, where the host family had a boat and three personal watercrafts (PWCs). To avoid creating a wake, the host took the boat to a different area and left the teens to play on the PWCs. Deborah had never operated a PWC. Hers stalled unexpectedly. Her friend, who had been looking in another direction, turned to see Deborah directly in front of her. She let off the throttle and tried to turn, but the PWC didn’t have off-throttle steering, so it went straight for Deborah. The crafts collided and she died instantly.

 

The Boles family encourages youth boat operators to take a boating safety course, and have a supervised and guided experience.

desirae@3x
desirae stennis

 

age 14
enid, OK
PUBLIC Lake

 

MOTOR BOAT + PROPELLER STRIKE

desirae.

In 2014, 14-year-old Desirae went to her dad’s house for Labor Day Weekend when a tragedy occurred. While getting ready to tube behind the boat, Desirae’s left leg got caught in the boat propeller, tearing her muscles and tendons, causing complete loss of feeling in her leg. Desirae was transported by ambulance, then medi-flighted to a large hospital where doctors performed an 8-hour surgery to try and save her leg. Five surgeries and several years later, Desirae still struggles with everyday tasks.

 

Desirae’s family shares her story so others will know the importance of boating safety through Waves of Hope and SPIN. If you’re operating a boat, make sure you understand how to safely board passengers. Because a life can be lost in a flash.

emilio@3x
emilio irving cruz

 

age 20
simi valley, ca
LAKE HAVASU

 

houseboat + PROPELLER STRIKE

emilio.

While enjoying Spring Break in 1993 with his UCSD Sigma Chi brothers on Lake Havasu in Arizona, Emilio and his friends rented a houseboat. Unknowingly, as Emilio jumped off the boat, one of his brothers started the engine. Emilio was sucked into the unprotected boat propeller, and a major leg artery was severed. Screams from witnesses had the operator kill the engine and many onlookers jumped in the bloody water to save Emilio. He lost consciousness immediately and was pronounced dead in the helicopter en route to the hospital.

 

Marion Irving de Cruz, Emilio’s mom, fought tirelessly for the memory of her only child by founding SPIN (Stop Propeller Injuries Now) until her death in 2016. SPIN lives on, and continues the pursuit to educate and advocate for propeller awareness.

hannah-ash
HANNAH ASH

 

age 23
KENT ISLAND, MD
CHESAPEAKE BAY

 

sandbar + power boat + propeller strike

hannah.

On September 5, 2020, after a beautiful day of boating & swimming at a local beach, Hannah and three friends were returning to the marina in her 17′ open bow boat. It was around 4 p.m. on a perfectly calm sunny day and they were unaware of the extreme low tide compounded by a full moon the night before. Hannah was standing at the open windshield when the boat unexpectedly hit a sandbar. The sudden impact threw Hannah off the front of the bow and into the water. It happened so quickly that there was no time to prevent the boat from running her over. Tragically, Hannah passed away that night.

 

Learn how the Ash family is turning this tragedy into a learning experience while also supporting young women ages 18-26 with useful tips and resources to become the best versions of themselves. Learn more at InspiredByHannah.org.

hunter@3x
hunter bland

 

age 21
OCALA, FL
lake seminole

 

motor boat + steering SYSTEM malfunction

hunter.

January 14, 2017, Hunter was participating in a college fishing tournament. With life jackets on and engine cut-off device attached, Hunter and his partner passed a boat check, then headed out. While en route, the boat’s steering assembly malfunctioned, causing the boat to fishtail wildly. Both were violently thrown out, trapping Hunter under the boat. After struggling a few long seconds under water, Hunter’s partner reached him in time, pulling the cord on his inflatable life jacket. Because the engine cut-off device did its job, they reached the boat safely.

 

Learn how Hunter works each day to share about boating safety as a professional bass angler.

 

WATCH VIDEO
Jack@3x
jackson helbig

 

age 4
southport, nc
big lake

 

lake house + drowning

jack.

At their family lake house, Jack was excited to show his grandparents how he could jump off the boat dock and swim to the ladder with his life jacket on. His mom reminded him of the rules: always go with a grown-up and wear a life jacket when around the water. A short time later, after the children were taken inside for dry clothes, it became obvious that Jack was not with his siblings. A search began. Jack was found in the lake, unconscious, life jacket on the porch. Jack could not be resuscitated.

 

Learn how The Jack Helbig Memorial Foundation works to prevent drowning through education and awareness. They empower kids to make safe choices around water and provide a framework for this to occur.

john@3x
john sullivan

 

age 43
ST. HELENS, OR
COLUMBIA RIVER

 

YACHT + DROWNING

john.

On December 10, 2011, John and his wife, Meghan, stepped onto a 63’ yacht, newly married, anticipating a fun night of mixing and mingling with local business owners during the annual Christmas Ship Parade. Less than three short hours later, Meghan stepped off that same boat a widow. John fell into the river from the top deck, which was icy and had no safety railing. Life jackets were not used at this outing and John was not wearing one. Despite an exhaustive search, John was not found for 164 days.

 

John’s family founded John’s Jackets to raise funds for life jacket donations and loaner stations along our rivers, as well as water safety education. It takes 30 seconds for a loved one to put a life jacket on correctly, but a lifetime wishing they had.

kali-gorzell
KALI GORZELL

 

age 16
ARANSAS PASS, TX
ARANSAS BAY

 

POWER BOAT + PROPELLER STRIKE

kali.

On July 20, 2012, Kali was on a fishing trip with family friends off of Port Aransas. As the boat operator made a gradual turn, the boat suddenly swapped ends by 180 degrees. Kali was thrown from the boat and struck in the head and neck by the outboard engine’s propeller. The boat operator had failed to use his engine cut-off switch. It was later found out that the type of boat had a defective hull design. Kali passed away as her friends held her while the boat raced to the dock for help.

 

With the help of Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, legislators, and state officials, Kali’s Law was passed requiring that Texas boaters operating a powerboat under 26′ in length use an engine cut-off switch while the boat is on plane or underway. And this is now federal law. This will reduce the risk of boaters getting struck by the boat or propeller if the operator is thrown into the water or off their feet.

 

Remember Kali. Use an engine cut-off switch and boat responsibly.

kitty@3x
KITTY FRANCIS

 

age 11
CANANDAIGUA, NY
canandaigua lake

 

power BOAT + propeller strike

kitty.

Sixty years ago, Kitty fell off a boat driven by a young, reckless driver. His instinctive, but incorrect, reaction of turning the boat away from her brought the propeller to Kitty’s head, slashing her skull. A metal plate was placed in her head, allowing Kitty to have an active life… a fortunate outcome. But her parents suffered greatly, worrying about Kitty. They died young. Physically, Kitty recovered, but not one day goes by without thought of the day she was almost killed by a propeller strike, a tragedy that continues to this day.

 

Kitty continues to share her story to prevent propeller  injuries from happening to others. She supports Waves of Hope and SPIN.

osmany@3x
OSMANY CASETLLANOS

 

age 23
miami, FL
ELLIOTT KEY

 

motor BOAT + PROPELLER STRIKE

osmany.

After enjoying a day boating in 2007 with 11 other passengers at Elliott Key, the boat owner sped back to the marina and made a sudden left turn which threw Osmany “Ozzie” off the boat. The boat owner did not turn off the motor, nor did he have an engine cut-off device. Ozzie was struck by the propeller. Neither the passengers on board, nor the boat owner, rendered aid or attempted to rescue him. Ozzie remained submerged in water and drowned.

 

Learn how Ozzie’s family honors him with the Ozzies Angels Foundation, working tirelessly to educate the boating public in hopes of saving others.

robyn@3x
Robyn Seel Boggs

 

Age 46
Fairfax, VA
Potomac River

 

Motorboat + Propeller Strike

robyn.

On August 17, 2003, Robyn was at a family lake gathering. The family took the boat out to water ski. Robyn and her niece, Sarah, decided to swim instead. The operator was turned, watching the skier when the boat banked directly toward them. Sarah froze. Robyn had no choice but to swim to Sarah and shove her under. The boat’s propeller struck Robyn 11 times, severing her arm and her leg, among countless other injuries. After a horrifying rescue, Robyn’s life and leg were saved, but they could not save her arm. Robyn has endured years of rehabilitation.

 

Robyn and her family give their voice to boating safety through Waves of Hope, SPIN, VSBA, and others

Ryan@3x
Ryan Swain

 

age 17
Amity, AR
Lake Degray>

 

LAKE + DROWNING

ryan.

On September 7, 2013, Ryan and three friends went to their favorite hunting spot near the lake, just 15 minutes from home. From the bank of the lake, the boys shot a duck which fell in the water. Ryan took off his boots and carefully left his wallet, cell phone and pocket knife on the bank. Ryan waded into the water to retrieve the duck and for unknown reasons, went under in only six feet of water. He did not resurface. Several hours later, Ryan was recovered by a search and rescue team. Ryan was 17 years old.

 

Learn more why the Swain family founded Ryan’s Call Foundation to honor Ryan’s life, to educate and increase water safety awareness, and to assist families facing injuries related to outdoor recreational accidents.

shirley kay@3x
shirley brocchini-jones

 

age 24
klammath falls, or
lake shasta

 

PWC & houseboat + propeller strike

shirley kay.

On what was supposed to be a relaxing, fun day on the water, Shirley Kay had taken a personal watercraft (PWC) out for a spin on the lake. Upon Shirley Kay’s return, she exited the PWC to board the houseboat when it was accidentally put into reverse, sucking her into the propeller. The force mangled her legs and she sustained significant injuries. She was life-flighted by helicopter to a large hospital where Shirley Kay succumbed to her injuries days later, leaving behind her one and only child, a 7-month-old baby boy.

 

Shirley’s family continues to educate the public about the importance of boater education and safety equipment through groups such as Waves of Hope and SPIN.

trenton@3x
TRENTON alexander

 

age 13
SPOKANE, WA
CoeuR D’ALENE LAKE

 

MOTOR BOAT + propeller strike

trenton.

Trenton was out on the lake for a fun day of wakeboarding. Trenton was standing at the back of the boat, switching from one life jacket to another. The boat was in neutral, not moving. However, a malfunction caused the propeller to continue to turn slowly, unbeknownst to anyone on board. The propeller hooked the ski rope that Trenton had wrapped around him, pulling him off and under water, where the propeller cut him under his left arm pit area. Trenton did not survive. He was only 13 years old.

 

Trenton’s family tells everyone they know who has a boat to look into a propeller guard and to take a boater safety course, and support groups such as Waves of Hope, SPIN and more.

vanessa@3x
vanessa mauffray

 

age 19
KILN, MS
bayou caddy

 

fishing boat + motor boat collision, IMPAIRED DRIVER

vanessa.

On June 26, 2016, Vanessa Mauffray was enjoying a morning of fishing with her boyfriend. As they checked crab traps from the boat, they noticed another boater approaching fast. The operator was looking toward his stern. The boat crashed broadside into theirs leaving Vanessa critically injured with internal bleeding. Her boyfriend miraculously survived. After transport to a hospital, Vanessa succumbed to her injuries that same day. She was only 19 years old. The driver of the boat was charged with manslaughter.

 

Vanessa’s family works to create a culture where driving drunk in a boat is as unacceptable as in a car.

will-brannon
heath-faucheux
thomas-larry-202x204
WILL BRANNON, HEATH FAUCHEUX, THOMAS LARRY

 

AGES 17, 16 & 11
MARION COUNTY, TX
LAKE O’ THE PINES

 

CATAMARAN + POWER LINE

will, health, & thomas.

Each summer the Scouts of Trop 620 held a campout where more experienced Scouts taught powerboating, sailing, and canoeing skills. All precautions were observed. On August 5, 2017, an electric transmission power line came in contact with the top of the mast of a small catamaran piloted by Will, Heath, and Thomas. All three young men were electrocuted and died while everyone watched helplessly from shore. The power line was not a the required height and there were no warning signs or buoys.

 

In 2019, the families of the boys worked with legislators, state officials, and industry stakeholders to pass Texas HB 4150, later named the William Thomas Heath Power Line Safety Act. This new legislation created utility accountability and overbite regulations to bolster public safety on Texas public lakes. The parents also established the Power Line Safety Initiative. Utilities and lake controlling authorities should be held responsible for public safety.

 

Dangerous looking power lines should immediately be reported to both the electric company and law enforcement. Learn about the Power Line Safety Initiative.

wyatt@3x
WYATT DALE TERASAS

 

AGE 3
GRAHAM, TX
POSSUM KINGDOM LAKE

 

LAKE SWIM AREA + DROWNING

wyatt.

July 7, 2013, was a hot, but beautiful, summer day. The swimming area at the lake was full with families celebrating the last day of the July 4th weekend. Staying just long enough to cool off, Wyatt and his sister were playing while their daddy turned to put their shoes on the beach. In five seconds, silently, Wyatt slipped in and under. He was not wearing his life jacket. The search began, Wyatt was found, and emergency responders were called. CPR was performed but Wyatt did not go home that day.

 

Learn about the Terasas family’s mission to honor Wyatt and to “Save Lives One Jacket at a Time” by providing free life jackets to children, swim scholarships and water safety training to families in the hope that no family loses another child to drowning.

Join us in working together to prevent boating and water tragedies.

#onewaveatatime