FT LAUDERDALE (CBSMiami) – A teen is dead and five others are injured after a small boat crashed into a Wilton Manors bridge.
At about midnight Kedren Reginer saw a boat-load of teens speed past his apartment on the south fork of the Middle River. He knew trouble was just seconds away.
“I seen the boat with my own two eyes. I seen the boat cross over and I’m like woah… it’s late for them to be cruising and they were going pretty fast and then after that, I heard the big smack and boom. I’m like woah,” said Reginer.
The boat with six teens on board slammed into a low clearance bridge. Reginer said, with the speed they were going, they never had a chance to stop.
“If you were going at regular speed, you would have seen the bridge. At the speed they were going, they had no time, no second, no nothing,” said Reginer.
Ft. Lauderdale Fire Rescue said they received a call about the accident at Dixie Highway and NE 18th Court just after midnight.
When authorities arrived, they found the 13-foot Boston Whaler wedged under the low lying bridge which had several pipes running along its underside.
“I believe that there are quite a few drains that goes across this bridge as well,” said Amanda Phillips with the FWC. “Several of them (teens) were standing up, several of them were sitting down and I believe different parts of the bridge unfortunately, there’s not just one particular area that they hit.”
It appeared the boat was eastbound on the Middle River when it collided with the bridge.
“That investigation is going to include looking at the boat, collecting physical evidence and interviewing the people on board to get the whole story of what happened,” said Liz Barraco with FWC.
Friends of the teen who died identified him as 17-year old John Baker who was about to start his senior year at St. Thomas Aquinas High School. There were four other males and female on board the boat with Baker. All were under the age of 18.
“Just freak accident, going through this bridge, dark here, there are no lights here at night. I don’t see any street lights even to light up the area,” said family friend Chris Liptak. “I can’t believe it, good kid, unbelievable.”
Friends said the teens may have been out watching a meteor shower when the deadly crash happened.
As a high school senior, Baker was an avid diver and boater and loved fishing.
“I’ve known him since he was born. He’s a water baby. I mean they had a Bertram Sport Fisher. They’re always on the water. They’re always in the Bahamas. They had a house down in the Keys. He’s grown up around the water,” said Liptak.
Friends stopped by thru out the day, remembering him.
“I was just sitting with him this last weekend. He was getting ready to play football at St. Thomas, a good kid, our hearts are broken,” said friend Christine Davis.
“He was a great upbeat guy always fishing, out on the boat with us sorry,” said Brett Bartholomew
Classmate Hugo Meyjonade went to visit the survivors at the hospital and said Emily Giusti, the one girl on the boat is expected to be up and walking soon but friend Sean Mahoney has a long road to recovery.
“Sean has fractures in his spine…had hip surgery that went well..I hope he’s alright,” said Meyjonade.
Residents who live in the area said that part of the river is just an accident waiting to happen.
“Sooner or later there was going to be a human casualty and that’s because there are a lot of drainage tubes, solid steel drainage tubes that come out of the buildings and cross over the river. Unless the tide is very, very low you won’t get through there,” said Sebastian Legarde.
Investigators said they believed the teens were on that section of the river two hours earlier exploring the area. They said at the time of the crash it was very dark and they may not have seen the pipes under the bridge.
There are no warning signs by the bridge, except noting it is a “no wake” manatee zone. The bridge has very low clearance and is especially tight to get under it during high tide. Making it even more tricky, are big pipes stretching across the water.
As investigators try to sort it all out friends are looking for answers too.
“You got to be watching what you’re doing…. it only takes a second to stand up at the wrong time. It’s a real shame,” said Liptak.
The injured teens, three of whom were in critical condition, were taken to Broward Health Medical Center. One has since been released.