Des Moines County Sheriff Mike Johnstone says it was a very difficult scene to investigate after a boating accident on the Mississippi River near Burlington left four people dead. “It’s one of the most sad and tragic things I’ve been involved in,” the sheriff says.
Those who survived had injuries ranging from minor to life-threatening. The two jon boats were carrying a dozen people, 11 on one boat, one in the other. The boats collided near Burlington in the O’Donnell Slough area about a quarter to two in the morning Saturday.
Eleven of the boaters were from Burlington, one was from Davenport. All were in their late teens or early 20s and none were wearing life jackets. Everyone was injured and eight of them were able to make it to shore. The four victims’ bodies were found Sunday in about a dozen feet of water some 100 yards from the crash site. The four killed were: 21-year-olds Matthew House and Blake Eakins, 20-year-old Caitlyn Atchley and 22-year-old Jacob Boyd. All were from Burlington.
Johnstone says everyone is looking for details as to what caused the collision. “We’re not going to have any solid answers on this thing for at least a week,” he says. “We’re going to work closely with the Iowa D.N.R., we’ll interview the surviving victims, we’ll interview everyone that we can. I would encourage anyone that has information to contact the sheriff’s office so we can do a good investigation, a complete investigation on this.”
The sheriff isn’t commenting on the causes of death, saying, autopsies have been ordered for the four victims. Johnstone says it’s likely some of the young people had been drinking.
“We don’t know to what level,” he says. “We do believe there was some alcohol involved. We do know that they’d come from a party so it’d be a safe assumption to say that there was probably some of that being used. They could’ve very well been within the legal amount.” The sheriff says this is a very unfortunate event for the Mississippi River town.
“We all love the river,” he says. “We go out there a lot. We love its beauty, but never forget how dangerous it is, especially after dark. The river is a place we all love but by all means, you’ve got to respect it.”
At his news conference in Des Moines this morning,Governor Terry Branstad said his prayers and thoughts go out to the survivors and to the families of everyone involved. Branstad says, “As we approach this coming Memorial Weekend’s activities, I want to remind Iowans that it’s important we put safety first, whether navigating our waterways or our highways.”
He noted how none of the 12 young people involved in the boating accident had been wearing life jackets — and that serves as a lesson to all other boaters. “We need to be alert, we need to be prepared and if we’re in a boat, we need to be wearing life jackets,” the governor says.
The two boat operators are identified as Joseph S. Schier, 20, and Douglas C. Metcalf, 21, both of Burlington. The other six survivors are listed as: Christopher Edwards, 21; Jedadiah J. Thomas, 21; Michael M. Shea, 21; Reno A. Trejo, 21; Jennifer C. Parcel, 20, all of Burlington and Katie K. Nelan, 19, of Davenport.
Mark Morris, KBUR, Burlington also contributed to this story.