BURLINGTON, Iowa — A 250-page report detailing a boating accident that killed four Burlington residents on the Mississippi River in May has been turned over to the Des Moines County Attorney’s office for review.
However, prosecutors have not determined whether criminal charges will be filed, pending further investigation.
Lead investigator Paul Kay said the county attorney’s office has asked him for additional information before determining “if or when” criminal charges would be filed.
“We hope to bring this investigation to a conclusion in the next few weeks,” said Kay, a conservation officer with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. “An accident of this magnitude takes time to investigate. … We’ve got a few more people we need to talk to.”
Des Moines County Attorney Patrick Jackson agreed.
“We have the initial reports, but we still have some questions. We are handling this like we handle other investigations,” he said. “We looked at the reports and discovered that we needed some additional information from witnesses before we make our final decision. We don’t think it will be that long.”
Four people were killed when two jonboats shuttling partiers from an island sandbar to shore collided May 19 in O’Connell Slough, a well-traveled waterway just north of Burlington. It is separated from the main channel of the Mississippi River by O’Connell and Rush islands.
Jacob Keith Boyd, 22, Caitlyn Marie Atchley, 20, Blake Allen Eakins, 21, and Matthew Todd House, 21, all of Burlington, were killed in the accident.
According to death certificates filed in the Des Moines County Courthouse, Boyd and House died “instantaneously … from blunt force trauma.” Eakins and Atchley died from “asphyxiation due to drowning.”
The accident occurred about 1:45 a.m. after a jonboat being driven by Joseph Schier, 20, had dropped off passengers on a dock down river and was returning to the sandbar for more people. He hit a jon boat operated by Doug Metcalf, 21, which was carrying 11 people, authorities said.
The front of Metcalf’s boat was torn off and all of its occupants were thrown into the water. Schier’s boat sustained only minor damage, and he was able to rescue all but the four people who died. Their bodies were found the next day within 100 yards of the crash site.
Kay has been working with the county attorney’s office and the Des Moines County Sheriff’s office on the investigation most of the summer.
Kay and Kevin Baskins, a public information officer with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, agreed an accident of this magnitude takes an extraordinary amount of time before a final determination is made.
“This isn’t like a traffic accident,” Baskins said. “They’ve got that down to a science. An accident involving boats takes a lot longer to sort out. Boating accidents are just extremely difficult and time consuming to investigate. A lot of boating investigations like this revolve around eyewitnesses, and we had a lot of eyewitnesses. There is also a lot of evidence that needs to be reviewed. We have to take a real close look at the vessels.”
In addition to the two jon boat drivers who survived, six others suffered injuries in the accident. Authorities identified them as Christopher Edwards, 21, Jedadiah J. Thomas, 21, Michael M. Shea, 21, Reno A. Trejo, 21, Jennifer C. Parcel, 20, all of Burlington; and Katie K. Nelan, 19, of Davenport.
Investigators said they have talked to everyone involved in the collision. They also have released the boats to the owners.
“I can’t say exactly when the final report will be submitted, but we hope to have a conclusion in the next few weeks,” Kay said.
Kay and Baskins declined Tuesday to reveal any aspects of the investigation, including whether alcohol or drugs were contributing factors in the collision.
Sheriff’s investigators acknowledged at the time alcohol was served at the party, but didn’t know if it was a contributing factor.
It is illegal to operate a boat with a blood-alcohol level above 0.08.
Autopsies were performed on all four people who were killed, but the death certificates filed at the Des Moines County Courthouse did not reveal if they had alcohol or drugs in their systems at the time of the accident.
A memorial fundraiser is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. Aug. 25 at the Fun City Outdoor Stage. Donations from the concert, which will include four bands, will benefit the Memorial River Safety Awareness monuments to be constructed in memory of those who died. Admission is $5, and food and beverages will be available.