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Ickes: Many were on the LeClaire riverfront during fatal boating accident
VIEWPOINT

Ickes: Many were on the LeClaire riverfront during fatal boating accident

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One thing everyone agrees on is that boat traffic on the Mississippi River has been heavier this summer than it's been in years.

People are limited on where they feel comfortable going and, with gas prices low, boating has become even more popular in the Quad-Cities this season.

The day of the accident in LeClaire was a perfect day to be on the river. Temperatures hung in the 80s most of the day, and the terrible storm the week before had many of us desperate for distraction.

At about 7 p.m. that Sunday, Aug. 16, a terrible boating accident occurred just off the downtown LeClaire shoreline — within casting distance of the Buffalo Bill Museum. In addition to the river being busy, many people were enjoying the riverfront and some of the downtown business district's patios, which face the river.

Many of those people have been interviewed by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, which is in charge of the investigation into the crash that resulted in two deaths.

Dr. Anita Pinc, 52, of Moline, died at the scene, and her fiance, Craig Verbeke, 61, of Moline, died at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics three days later.

The DNR has been uncharacteristically lean with details. When I called the LeClaire Police Department this week, looking for copies of their accident reports, I was told they turned their paperwork over to the DNR. They'd given the same explanation to calls from insurance companies, I was told.

I spent a couple of hours in LeClaire Wednesday, asking people who live and/or work along the riverfront what they saw.

While I encountered no one who was an eyewitness to the crash, I talked to people who heard the collision and witnessed the aftermath.

One business owner said witnesses had been told by the DNR that they shouldn't talk about the accident. But he said he told what he knew to a private investigator from Chicago who was in town to collect information for an insurance company.

The man didn't want me to identify him. He didn't wish to go against the DNR, and he didn't want to have to keep telling the story.

Between the business owner and a restaurant manager's telling, I feel confident conveying some information. But some of what I was told by others clearly was rumor, and they freely admitted as much. I won't repeat any of that.

What we already knew is that Pinc and Verbeke were in a 19-foot Bayliner. The other boat was a 35-foot Triton.

I asked a lifelong boater friend if a crash between the two vessels would be similar to an accident between a small car and a large SUV. She said it would be more akin to a semi truck driving over the top of a mid-sized sedan.

But several people talked about a third boat, which they said also was a large vessel.

The third boat may have been occupied by people who knew the people in the Triton because, after the wreck, passengers collected several children off the Triton to get them away from the troubling scene. But boaters help boaters, so it could be the third boat was simply nearby.

Two post-crash witnesses said someone from one of the boats boarded Verbeke's boat and performed CPR on him.

While at least two people talked about the speed of the Triton, they saw it before the crash and not at impact. In other words, it is possible it slowed down.

But the business owner, a lifelong boater who saw the immediate aftermath, said one thing was plain to him: The larger boat had pulled suddenly off the throttle. That's why the bow of the boat, the front, was raised upward. He was convinced the raised front end prevented the driver from seeing the smaller boat in its path.

Other post-wreck witnesses described the same thing, saying the bigger boat, the Triton, slammed on top of the smaller boat.

I heard the same agreement from other post-wreck witnesses about the driver of the big boat. Four people said the pilot was a teenager. While this might explain some of the DNR's reluctance to share information — that one person directly involved may be a minor — the witnesses acknowledged they had no evidence of the boat operator's age.

In Iowa, it is legal for children between 12 and 18 to operate a boat. Those in that age group, however, must carry their boater-safety certification with them. Whether this rule was followed no doubt will be part of the DNR's investigation.

Almost all of the dozen people I spoke with in LeClaire said they were surprised nothing more has come out about the crash. The rumors have been running wild, they said, which is not unusual in a small town.

They all said they felt terrible for the families of Dr. Pinc and Verbeke. It must be so hard for them, they said, having no explanation for how such a terrible thing happened. At least three people talked about people they knew who saw the accident but were reluctant to go to police. This disgusted them.

I tried to be positive, assuring them the DNR investigators are diligent. They'll sort it out. The family will get answers.

I wouldn't have said it if I didn't believe it.

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