Survivor recalls ordeal at sea
July 20, 2008 6:00 AM
DARTMOUTH — Police on Saturday continued to investigate a boat collision that killed a prominent retired businessman and experienced sailor Friday afternoon, as more information emerged about the accident and the power boat that knocked him into the water.
David J. Walsh, 64, died after a 60-foot power boat, the Reasons, collided with his 35-foot sail boat, the Priority, off Padanaram around 1:30 p.m. Friday, throwing him overboard. A Coast Guard response boat transported the man popularly known as "D.J." to State Pier in New Bedford and he was later pronounced dead at St. Luke's Hospital in New Bedford.
Mr. Walsh's friend, Warren G. Hathaway, 66, of Dartmouth, was treated at St. Luke's Hospital Friday for non-life-threatening injuries and was released Saturday morning. Mr. Hathaway is publisher emeritus of Hathaway Newspapers, part of the SouthCoast Media Group.
"D.J. was a beloved person by hundreds of people, a dear friend of mine and it was just a horrible day in my life," Mr. Hathaway said Saturday while at home with his family. "The entire incident was just a terrible shock."
Mr. Hathaway and Mr. Walsh had been friends for many years and shared a love for sailing. Mr. Hathaway is the coach and Mr. Walsh was the assistant coach of the Dartmouth High School sailing team.
Mr. Walsh also was the retired president of Teledyne Rodney Metals, a specialty metals manufacturer, and past chairman of the Buzzards Bay Regatta.
Friday morning, the men sailed the Priority to the Elizabeth Islands from Padanaram, with Mr. Hathaway at the wheel of his friend's boat.
"D.J. was relaxing while I was sailing the boat. We had a wonderful day."
Later, as Mr. Hathaway steered the boat north to head home, he told Mr. Walsh he wanted to go down below to look around. Mr. Walsh then took control of the boat, Mr. Hathaway said.
After several minutes down below, Mr. Hathaway settled into a settee and fell asleep as the sailboat drifted over calm waters. But five minutes later, he was jolted awake by Mr. Walsh's distressed shouts from above.
"I remember him screaming, 'What are you doing?' but I never had an opportunity to get to the cockpit."
As Mr. Hathaway scrambled to get to his friend, he heard the Reasons approaching.
"Down below in a sailboat, you can hear the vibrations humming in the water from power boats nearby. I knew it was a powerful boat because of the level of the engines. I've been around boats for 60 years, so I could tell."
The Reasons hit the Priority with such force that Mr. Hathaway said he was thrown across the salon. The power boat pushed up onto the sailboat and off the other end in seconds, tearing through the cockpit and blocking Mr. Hathaway's exit.
Water quickly filled the cabin up to Mr. Hathaway's knees. Afraid he would drown, he tore through Plexiglas leading to the cockpit and pulled himself out, suffering lacerations across his body from the jagged edges.
"When I got to the cockpit, the first thing I saw was total devastation," he said. "The most eerie thing about it was the contrast between the tremendous noise of the boat hitting and going right over our boat, and when I got through that hole, it was totally quiet. The sail was still up."
Covered in blood, Mr. Hathaway scanned the water in search of Mr. Walsh, but to no avail.
"When I couldn't find D.J., I've never been more heartsick in my life."
Mr. Hathaway spotted the Reasons about 100 yards away and yelled in the hope that its captain would see him. When the boat got closer, Mr. Hathaway asked the captain to call the Coast Guard for help. He heard the mayday coming from the radio in the sailboat's cabin, now almost completely filled with water.
Mr. Hathaway said he blames the collision on the "inattention" of whoever was operating the Reasons.
"We were going four knots and he was going three and a half times that fast," he said.
Power-driven vessels are to keep out of the way of sailing vessels at all times, according to navigation rules established by the United States Coast Guard. When one vessel gets too close to another, it is deemed to be "overtaking" that vessel.
The District Attorney's Office and the Massachusetts Environmental Police declined to release information about the Reasons and its three-person crew Saturday, nor any information on what may have caused the collision. Both offices said more information would be available next week.
"The investigation is ongoing and will continue throughout the weekend and likely spill over into next week," said Gregg Miliote, spokesman for Bristol County District Attorney C. Samuel Sutter.
Fred M. Bevins of Gloucester is the owner of the Reasons, a recreational boat built in 1993, according to a Coast Guard vessel database on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Web site.
Mr. Bevins did not respond to a phone message left at his residence Saturday.
Mr. Hathaway said the Reasons' captain, his wife and grandson were on board the Reasons when the collision happened.
Mr. Hathaway said he spoke with investigators Saturday morning. For now, Mr. Hathaway said he is focusing on his recovery, spending time with his loved ones, and remembering his best friend.
"My friends were a tremendous solace to me at the hospital. They knew we had just lost D.J. and they were just so comforting to me. Now we are all doing the best we can, and we need to heal."