Investigation continues into Lake Monroe crash

This photo of 8 year old Gage Pruett taken last year on Lake Monroe
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Monroe County - Investigators know a little more about the boating accident that killed a Bedford woman and her grandson.

Susan Collier, 51, and Gage Pruett, 8, died when a speed boat collided with their fishing boat. It happened near Eagle Point on Lake Monroe at around 8:00 pm Monday night.

The Colliers were out on the boat with three of their grandchildren - triplets - for what was meant to be a fun fishing trip. It ended quickly and sadly.

"It's difficult to tell who was at fault," said Lt. Mark Farmer, Department of Natural Resources.

DNR investigators spent the day reconstructing what happened when the Colliers' fishing boat and a speed boat collided. Two on the fishing boat, Susan Collier and her grandson Gage Pruett, died. No one on the speed boat was injured.

"This is the part of the boat that made contact. Not all of the boat made contact. It could have been rolling up which would put basically half the boat in the air. Not enough to make contact with this boat but enough to make contact with the victims," said Dave Reese, DNR investigator.

Reese doesn't believe the boats hit head-on. Neither does the daughter and aunt of the victims who talked to us by phone.

"They were traveling down the lake into the open. He said he was going about 25 miles per hour something like that and he saw the boat come behind them thought it would go beside them. By the time he realized it was going to hit him, it was too late. It all happened too fast," said Melanie Floerke.

DNR says alcohol did not play a role in the crash. They are not placing blame for the accident, but they are trying to figure out exactly why the two boats collided.

"At this time, we're not assigning fault to either boat. If anything, we're assigning a little bit of fault to both boats," said DNR Officer Angela Goldman. "It simply appears that neither boat saw the other approach."

"You have wave action, wind action, sun - all affects the operator of a vessel," said Lt. Farmer.

"The fact the sun was going down could have been a glare or reflection off the water," said Reese.

The driver of the fishing boat, James "Rusty" Collier, is a well-known fishing and hunting guide in Monroe County. His daughter told Eyewitness News by phone he's on the water every chance he gets. They'd only been out Monday a short time.

"They just left my son's ball game about a quarter to seven. We got the call just after dark," said Floerke. "My nephew said we'd only caught one fish. They hadn't been out very long."

"The grandmother was probably on the outside keeping the child inside," said Lt. Farmer.

Officials say 19-year-old Winston Wood was driving the ski boat. Another friend, also 19, was riding in the boat and a third 19-year-old was riding the wakeboard. Investigators do not believe alcohol was a factor.

"Everyone tested zero for alcohol," said Goldman.

DNR investigators can't say why the boat's drivers didn't see each other on a night that didn't have a lot of boat traffic. But this upcoming July 4 weekend certainly will. It's one of the busiest of the season.

"The most important thing for a driver of a boat to do is be aware of his boat and all the other boats surrounding him," Goldman said.

But that doesn't always happen, say DNR officers who patrol the state's waters.

"We see near misses a lot," said Goldman.

Officers at the scene Tuesday say they had some initial trouble locating the teens from the speedboat, but officers later said the teens did not flee from the crash. DNR says the teens believed their boat might sink. Once they got to shore, they called 911 to report the crash and cooperated with police.

Watercraft accidents

DNR reports 13 watercraft accidents on Lake Monroe from 2008 to the present. In 2008, there were five watercraft accidents on the lake. None were fatal.

In 2009, of the 76 watercraft accidents reported statewide, two were fatal. One of those fatalities was at Lake Monroe when a person fell overboard.

In 2010, there have been 38 watercraft accidents reported statewide so far, three of them fatal. That includes Monday night's fatalities at Lake Monroe, along with a jet skier who hit a barge on the Ohio River.

Indiana currently has more than 268,000 registered watercraft.

(Statistics reflect watercraft-related accidents only, not drowning of swimmers or flood victims.)