Boat driver: Coast Guard vessel hit his boat in deadly collision in San Diego Bay

By Elliot Spagat, AP
Monday, December 21, 2009

Boat driver: Coast Guard vessel sped before crash

SAN DIEGO — Alan DeWeese says his lights were on when a Coast Guard boat rammed his 26-foot Sea Ray, killing his 8-year-old son and injuring five others on board.

The lights are just one reason witnesses and survivors are struggling to understand why the Coast Guard boat crashed into the packed recreational boat Sunday night at the 38th annual San Diego Bay Parade of Lights, a popular showcase for boats decked in Christmas lights.

DeWeese had borrowed his father’s boat and invited two other families to watch the parade on its 5-mile route past downtown skyscrapers and the famed Coronado Bridge. The 33-foot Coast Guard patrol boat, meanwhile, was responding to a report of a grounded vessel.

“It seemed like it was going full speed when it hit,” said Barbara Maloney, who watched from her 6th-floor hotel room. “We didn’t notice them slow down at all. I assume they didn’t see it.”

The Coast Guard has not yet provided answers. It expressed condolences to the DeWeese family Monday and said three probes were under way. The National Transportation Safety Board sent investigators to San Diego, and the Coast Guard and San Diego Harbor Police also are investigating.

“We look forward to discovering what the facts were,” Capt. Thomas Farris, commander of the Coast Guard’s San Diego sector, told reporters Monday.

There were 13 people aboard the DeWeese boat Sunday. Anthony Cole DeWeese, 8, died in the crash. Two other children were injured and taken to Rady Children’s Hospital, and three adults were transported to University of California, San Diego Medical Center, Fire Department spokesman Maurice Luque said.

None of the five people on the Coast Guard boat were injured.

Bob Furry was watching from his hotel room when he said he saw a boat blaze across the bay with a flashing blue light.

“We said, ‘Jeez, it’s going really fast.’ We thought it was some kind of hot-dogger,” he said.

Alan DeWeese turned around, but it was too late. He estimates the Coast Guard boat was traveling 35 mph to 45 mph and that he was moving no faster than 3 1/2 mph.

“I thought, why is he going so fast? I figured he was going to turn at some point but he kept coming at us,” DeWeese, 44, told The Associated Press on Monday.

“He came up so fast I didn’t have time to react,” DeWeese said.

Roger DeWeese said his deceased grandson had been an ice hockey goalie.

“He was a spark plug,” said DeWeese, who was not on the boat during the crash. “He liked just about everything.”

The boy’s father, also a hockey player, said his son enjoyed life to the fullest.

During the parade in San Diego Sunday, boaters festooned their decks with Christmas lights. In keeping with this year’s theme, “Christmas at the Zoo,” some participants dressed up as giraffes and pandas.

There were about 80 boats in this year’s parade, from a 12-foot canoe to a 157-foot yacht.

The parade drew about 80,000 people on Dec. 13 and again Sunday, said Ron Sheehan, vice chairman.

Associated Press Writer Greg Risling in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

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