Thursday, January 18, 2018
Public safety

Water scooter collided 'dead center' with tour boat off Clearwater

CLEARWATER — Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission investigators were working Sunday to figure out just what led to a crash that killed two people on a water scooter when it collided with a tour boat.

The crash happened about 6:10 p.m. Saturday near the Clearwater Memorial Causeway Bridge when the rented watercraft struck a double-deck tour boat that was on a dolphin-sighting excursion.

Commission spokesman Baryl Martin identified the water scooter's driver as Ramana Gadiraju, 50, and the passenger as Shubhada Kulkarni, 49, both of Lower Gwynedd, Pa. The couple, who have a son, were in town on business and vacation, he said.

The cruise company, Tropics Boat Tours, said on its Facebook page Sunday that it "extends … heartfelt thoughts and prayers to all the family members, passengers and crew affected by the tragic accident that occurred yesterday." The company said in its message that it had canceled all Sunday cruises — out of respect for the dead, owner Trisha Rodriguez said the night before — and would resume regular operations today.

Authorities said none of the 70 to 80 passengers aboard the tour company's only vessel was injured.

Martin said investigators on Sunday morning had temporarily impounded the tour boat as they took photographs and combed the vessel for clues.

Based on preliminary information, he said, the 10-foot water scooter was traveling south in the Clearwater channel near Marker 7 and the 59-foot tour boat was traveling north. The scooter struck the "dead center front" of the boat, he said.

The tour boat captain retrieved the victims from the water and attempted CPR, Martin said, but they were later pronounced dead by Clearwater paramedics.

Citing the ongoing investigation, Martin said he could not confirm information from witnesses who said it appeared that the two were trying to outrun the boat in a game of chicken. But he did say the tour boat operator slowed down and put the engine in neutral to try to see what the driver of the personal watercraft was going to do. "There's no determination of fault until the investigation is complete," Martin said.

Staff writer Brittany Alana Davis contributed to this report.

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