Wednesday, 12 June 2024

Oroville man dies in Saturday boating accident

CLEARLAKE – An Oroville man died Saturday when the boat he and two others were riding in sank.


The body of Steven Wade Smith, 45, was located Saturday afternoon after a search that lasted beginning early in the morning, according to Capt. James Bauman of the Lake County Sheriff's Office.


Early Saturday at about 4:30 a.m., sheriff’s deputies responded to the area of Redbud Park in the city of Clearlake to assist Clearlake Police with a reported sunken boat and recovery of its occupants, Bauman said.


He said that other agencies responding to the incident included the Lake County Fire Protection District, a dive team from the Northshore Fire Protection District, the Sheriff’s Marine Patrol and Lake County Search and Rescue.


Dive team resources from the Napa, Mendocino, and Sonoma County Sheriff’s Departments also were requested for what would later turn out to be the recovery of a drowning victim, he said.


When sheriff’s deputies arrived at Redbud Park, Clearlake Police officers were already on scene after responding to reports of shouting coming from somewhere on the water. Bauman said that two of the three occupants of what was described as an older 15-foot bass boat that had reportedly sunk had been rescued from the water by another fisherman involved in a catfish derby and taken to shore.


He said the two people pulled from the water were identified as 40-year-old Jennifer Christensen and 44-year-old Jeffrey Cruz, both of Oroville. Their rescuer was identified only as Johnny Stevenson.


While medics attended to Christensen and Cruz onshore, Bauman said a Clearlake officer boarded Stevenson’s boat and went back out to look for the third occupant, later identified as Smith.


Bauman said Stevenson and the Clearlake officer searched the area for more than a half hour but were unable to locate Smith but they did locate the sunken vessel submerged about 5 feet below the surface of the lake. The boat ultimately was recovered and towed in by a Northshore Fire Dive Team boat out of the Clearlake Oaks station.


As additional resources arrived at the scene throughout the morning, search and dive teams were deployed on the lake to look for Smith, Bauman said. By early afternoon, Smith had been located by a Napa County dive team by use of sonar equipment. He was submerged in about 20 feet of water, nearly a mile offshore. Smith’s body was ultimately recovered and brought to shore at 2:20 p.m. by the Napa County dive team.


According to the surviving occupants of the boat, Christensen, Cruz and Smith had launched Smith’s boat from Redbud Park the previous evening and they had been on the lake fishing the entire night for the catfish derby. Bauman said that t about 10 p.m. they docked at Clearlake Oaks to weigh their fish and noticed water had accumulated in the bilge area of the boat.


They pumped the water out and proceeded back out to continue fishing. Bauman said all three went to sleep while out on the lake and at some point, Christensen woke up and discovered more water in the boat.


Smith began motoring in slowly towards shore but as he did, the boat took more and more water on. When it was clear that the boat was sinking, all three occupants abandoned the vessel, Bauman said.


Smith was reportedly having trouble staying afloat and despite Cruz’s repeated efforts to help keep Smith on the surface, Smith kept pulling Cruz down with him and Cruz eventually had to let him go to preserve his own life. Bauman said Christensen and Cruz were in the water for 15 to 30 minutes before Stevenson rescued them.


Stevenson told deputies he was also out fishing for the catfish derby with a friend and relative. They also were sleeping on board their boat while anchored off of Redbud Park when, at about 4:30 a.m., they awoke to people yelling for help somewhere out on the water, according to Bauman's report.


Bauman said that Stevenson immediately proceeded toward the yelling and was able to locate and rescue both Christiansen and Cruz from the water. They continued searching for Smith but could not find him so he returned to shore with the two survivors.


Christensen and Cruz were both transported to St. Helena Hospital Clearlake where they were treated and released, Bauman said.


The cause of the sunken fishing boat is pending further investigation, according to Bauman, and the manner and exact cause of Smith’s death is pending autopsy results.


Follow Lake County News on Twitter at http://twitter.com/LakeCoNews and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Lake-County-News/143156775604?ref=mf .

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