Update: Investigation continues into boat crash that killed 1, injured 2
An investigation may determine why, but what's known is that a speedboat driver on the St. Croix River somehow lost his bearings. Instead of continuing north, Patrick Puhalla, 46, of Bayport, Minn., got turned to the east.
His pleasure cruise on the river with two buddies ended when his boat slammed into a vertical rock face on the shoreline of Kinnickinnic State Park just before midnight last Wednesday, June 5.
Puhalla and Daniel M. Schulte, 55, of Hudson were seriously hurt. They were discovered and rescued by two Minnesota men out fishing that night. The fishermen also ferried the first emergency responders to the disabled boat site.
A third man in the crashed Formula 400 SS Powerboat -- David J. Riley, New Richmond -- was later pronounced dead at the scene by the Pierce County medical examiner. Efforts to revive him failed.
Pierce County Sheriff's Investigator Tom Gunderson said the big question is how Puhalla became so disoriented that his northbound boat went east. The three men in the 2005 powerboat had left Prescott earlier that night.
"The boat ran pretty squarely into the rock face for whatever reason and it was going at a good speed," Gunderson said.
Gunderson said an investigation may also pinpoint exactly how fast the powerboat was traveling. That type of boat can attain speeds of 60 mph.
Gunderson confirmed there was alcohol in the boat but couldn't say yet if it was a factor in the crash.
"We have to wait until the toxicology results come back for the boat operator," he said, adding those are sent to the state crime lab in Madison and can take months to return.
Gunderson said it didn't appear the crash was the result of reckless boat maneuvers or stunts. He said in summer there's a fair amount of boat traffic on the St. Croix River, including fishermen, at all hours, even late at night.
The powerboat was equipped with electronic navigational features like radar and night vision displayed on a mounted screen. Gunderson said the electronics will be inspected as part of the overall crash investigation.
After the boat hit the rocky shore, it took in water through several big holes in the bow and underneath while it drifted downstream.
The three men were knocked around inside but not thrown from the boat. Of the two who survived, one was conscious and the other was semi-conscious, Gunderson said.
A salvage company was contacted the day after the crash. A barge with two cranes extracted the damaged powerboat, pumped out all the water, winched it from the river and brought it to the closest marina, in Afton, Minn.
From there the boat was taken by semi on a trailer bed to the sheriff's department impound lot in Ellsworth.
Puhalla and Schulte were taken to Regions Hospital in St. Paul. Gunderson said Puhalla was the more seriously hurt. A Regions spokeswoman was unable to release information on his condition.
Schulte was briefly interviewed by law enforcement and has since been released from the hospital.
Paul Sickman, DNR conservation warden out of Baldwin, offered general safety advice for speedboat users.
"Have an operator who is safe and sober, a designated driver," he said. "Make sure you know the water body you are on. If new or inexperienced, obtain a chart of the water to know and locate danger areas. Drive slow or ask a local bait shop, marina, law enforcement or another source before heading out for the first time.
"If boating at night, make sure to slow down as perception and reaction times change from day to night time. Make sure everything on the boat is working and functioning properly, especially navigation lights if operating at night."