Speedboat with 13-year-old at helm strikes 2 camp counselors

This story was published on July 30, 2003 on Page B1 in all editions of the Bangor Daily News

PORTLAND – Officials are investigating a boating accident in which two camp counselors were struck by a speedboat driven by a 13-year-old boy on Raymond Lake.

The counselors were hit Saturday afternoon by a 16-foot boat traveling at an estimated 25 mph. One of the counselors remained hospitalized Tuesday with a punctured lung and broken ribs.

Brian Tripp, district warden for the Maine Warden Service, said the case will be given to the Cumberland County district attorney, who could issue a summons for operating recklessly. He did not release the name of the boy or an 11-year-old who was also in the boat.

Under Maine law, children as young as 12 are allowed to operate a motorboat without adult supervision. Anyone younger than that must be under the supervision of someone who is at least 16.

Despite the law, few parents allow children that young to go out unattended in a boat like the one involved in the accident, Tripp said. The boat was capable of reaching 40 mph, he said.

“Most people realize that kids that are 12, 13 years old – even though the law allows them – shouldn’t be operating these boats,” said Tripp. “Most reasonable adults don’t allow their kids to take out a [90] horsepower speedboat [alone]. Usually there’s an adult in the boat.”

Officials said the accident occurred late Saturday afternoon during a camp swim at Gander Brook Christian Camp in Raymond, about 45 minutes from Portland.

Darren Lugafet, the camp’s assistant director, said three counselors were swimming about 75 feet from shore when the boat came in their direction.

He said one of the swimmers motioned to the driver to turn to the right to avoid them, but that the boy instead turned left and ran into two of the counselors without slowing down.

Phil White, 19, of Illinois, was hit head-on and remained hospitalized Tuesday at Maine Medical Center. Cory Delbaugh, 21, of New Hampshire, was struck by the engine’s propeller and treated at Maine Medical for severe bruises, cuts and scrapes.

“The kid seemed to be driving way too fast, way too close to the shoreline,” Lugafet said. “That really was a bad situation.”

Lugafet said other counselors assisted White and Delbaugh, and that the boy who was operating the boat was remorseful.

Brad Shaw, vice president of the camp’s board of directors, said 30 to 40 campers, ages 8 to 10, saw the accident. Shaw and others questioned the state law that allows a boy as young as 12 to operate a powerboat.

State Sen. Bruce Bryant, D-Oxford, chairman of the Legislature’s Inland Fisheries and Wildlife committee, said lawmakers in the past have considered increasing the minimum age requirement to operate speedboats, but decided that parents should decide whether to allow their teenagers to operate the boats.

“We never like to see accidents … but it’s pretty hard to legislate where to draw the line,” he said.

Bryant said the committee may review the laws again during the next legislative session.