A West Richland man is accused of pinning his friend’s 4-year-old son underneath his aluminum boat Saturday when he drove it full throttle onto a beach north of Pasco.
David C. Smith, 36, claims he did not see the boy on a floating tube in the water because his vision was obstructed by his friend’s position in the boat.
Smith also said he accidentally shifted into forward — when he meant to go from neutral to reverse — as he approached the Columbia River shoreline, according to Deputy Mark Boyer with the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office.
Authorities question why bystanders had to come to the aid of the trapped boy, and even get inside the boat to turn off the motor, while Smith left the scene. He did not contact dispatch until hours later Saturday evening, and then didn’t meet with Boyer until Sunday morning.
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“It definitely could have been a fatality. It was a very serious situation, but it could have gone way worse than it did,” Boyer told the Herald. “The child is very lucky he didn’t sustain some serious injury from just the pressure of the boat being on his back.”
The boy suffered a bruise on his lower back. He was treated at a Tri-City hospital and released.
Witnesses told law enforcement they had seen Smith consuming alcohol during the day before the collision, according to court documents.
However, he adamantly denied any alcohol involvement during his interview with Boyer.
The incident at Carbody Beach happened the same weekend that local law enforcement participated in the national Operation Dry Water campaign to raise awareness about the dangers of alcohol and to crack down on boating under the influence.
In Washington, it is illegal to operate a vessel with a blood-alcohol level of 0.08 percent or higher, the same as it is for a vehicle.
Both Benton and Franklin sheriff’s offices had patrol boats on the water Friday through Sunday, as they will throughout the summer.
“It actually was a good weekend. It was really quiet, for the most part,” said Boyer, a certified marine law enforcement officer. “People were really behaving themselves, and I think the media helped with getting that message out about Operation Dry Water.”
Boyer said aside from the Carbody Beach incident, there was a collision on Sunday that’s also believed to be alcohol-related. Two personal watercraft collided near the Ringold fish hatchery on the Benton County side of the river, and a woman was flown to Kadlec Regional Medical Center with what ended up as non-life threatening injuries.
The Benton County Sheriff’s Office could not be reached for more details on that crash.
Smith was arrested after his interview Sunday and booked in the Franklin County jail.
On Monday, in Franklin County Superior Court, Judge Jackie Shea Brown found probable cause to hold Smith on allegations of second-degree assault and hit-and-run with a vessel, both felonies. He also had an investigative hold for operating a vessel in a reckless manner, a misdemeanor.
Shea Brown set bail at $10,000, and Smith posted bond later Monday. If prosecutors file charges this week, he will return to court July 5.
A court records search shows Smith was charged in 2002 in Benton County District Court with driving under the influence, a misdemeanor. He entered into an agreement for deferred prosecution and, after completing a number of requirements, saw the case dismissed in 2007, a court administrator said.
On Saturday, 911 dispatchers were called at 4:24 p.m. about a boy hit by a boat in the river near the end of Columbia River Road in Franklin County, Boyer said.
The boy had been floating in the water about four feet offshore.
Rodney S. Garrett told authorities he had been standing by his own boat on the beach when he saw the boat with Smith and the boy’s father, Josh Corke, driving down the river at a high rate of speed, court documents said.
Garrett realized the boat was coming in and looked around to make sure his own 4-year-old daughter was safe. Then he noticed the boy and “tried to grab the child out of the way but it was too late,” Boyer said.
Smith’s boat went over the boy as it continued onto the shore, where it also hit an empty pop-up shelter.
Garrett told deputies that the boat was left with the propeller spinning, as part of the boat pushed against the boy’s life jacket and held the lower half of his body under water. Bystanders had to lift the back of the boat to free him, Boyer said.
Meanwhile, Garrett got into the boat to shut off the motor. He then stayed with Smith’s boat and his own at the shore, while people carried the boy up to the lot where they were met by an ambulance.
Boyer said they asked West Richland police to look for Smith at his home that evening, but he was not there. His girlfriend later called to say Smith was home and wanted to talk, but Boyer told him it had to be in person and not over the phone.
By Sunday morning, Boyer said the “freshness” was gone and it was too late to do a blood draw on Smith.
“Most reasonable people would have stayed behind (at the scene) had there not been other circumstances,” he said.
The boy’s father, Corke, was arrested at the beach for obstructing a law enforcement officer. He allegedly was not cooperative with the investigation and “became very verbal towards one of our deputies.”
Boyer said it took the Franklin County sheriff’s boat patrol a long time to respond from Sacajawea State Park, because they had to slow down for other vessels making huge wakes.
He asks boaters and people on personal watercraft to please slow down and move out of the way if they see an approaching boat with lights and sirens.