Seven weeks after a boating accident on the Mississippi River killed two people, including a Davenport business owner, investigators still are piecing together details of what happened.
David Slater, 50, of Davenport and Thomas Trainer, 42, of Canton, Ill., died in the Oct. 20 accident in which a jon boat, carrying seven duck hunters for the opening day of the season, crashed into a stationary mile marker near Fairport, Iowa.
Four others were seriously injured and were transported to University Hospitals, Iowa City, for treatment.
Six men and a 9-year-old were on board the 12-occupant capacity vessel when it left the boat launch at Shady Creek Campground near Fairport around 6 a.m. Although the boat contained enough life jackets for all seven, only the child was wearing one, officials said.
The crash occurred on the Illinois side of the main channel of the river, so the deaths were handled by the Rock Island County Coroner’s office.
At a coroner’s inquest Wednesday, Illinois Conservation Police Officer Tony Petreikis said authorities still are not entirely clear where in the boat the six passengers were sitting when the boat ran onto the marker.
The driver of the jon boat, Danny J. Kirk, 66, of Rock Island, was an experienced boat operator and hunter, Petreikis said, but several conditions on the river that day were working against him.
The river was still dark at such an early hour, and a “pretty dense fog” made visibility worse, he said. The water level was low, and the boat’s motor was “sputtering,” he said.
Kirk, who was operating the motor in the rear of the boat, also was attempting to see past two men who may have been seated on the bow, or the front of the vessel, Petreikis said. It is likely the four other passengers were seated in the bottom of the boat.
“You have an awful lot of negative factors,” he told the coroner’s jury.
When he arrived at the channel marker, which is a semi-permanent structure that is held in place with concrete, rip-rap and four telephone poles, the boat still was resting on it, he said.
Although the bow of the boat was about 30 inches out of the water when it made contact with the piling, Petreikis said, the driver estimated he was traveling 20 mph at the most. Petreikis did not doubt the account, he said, because the bow would have been sitting lower in the water if the boat were at full speed.
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One of the victims in the crash, Paul Viner, said he was on the bow of the boat with Slater when they launched from the campgrounds but he lowered himself to the boat floor because of the cold.
It remains unclear whether Trainer remained on the bow at the time of the crash or also had lowered himself to the floor.
Police are awaiting toxicology results on the driver of the boat, Petreikis said, but they do not suspect drugs or alcohol were involved.
The cause of Slater’s death was drowning, and Trainer died from blunt-force trauma to the head from striking the channel marker, Coroner Brian Gustafson said.
The child on the boat has not been identified. In addition to Kirk and Viner, also on board were Timothy Schutt, 26, of East Moline, and William Leitner, 54, of Canton.
Slater was a father of three and owner/operator of Eastern Iowa Grain Inspection & Weighing Service, Davenport, which was founded by his father, Joseph Slater Sr.