Wednesday, May 23, 2018
Public safety

Authorities charge Indian Rocks Beach man in fatal water scooter crash

INDIAN ROCKS BEACH — After his friend died in a water scooter crash earlier this year, Robert Turnbull went out to sea and helped spread the ashes.

Turnbull hadn't known Victor Vazquez long, but on the evening of March 10, the two Indian Rocks Beach men were riding a personal watercraft that struck a channel marker in the Intracoastal Waterway, just north of the Belleair Causeway.

Both men were thrown from the craft. Vazquez, 40, died a short time later.

This week, authorities issued a warrant for Turnbull's arrest. Recently returned lab results showed Turnbull, who was driving, was intoxicated at the time of the crash, said Assistant State Attorney Holly Grissinger.

Turnbull, 34, turned himself in Wednesday night. Prosecutors have charged him with boating under the influence manslaughter and vessel homicide.

Court records show Turnbull's blood-alcohol content a few hours after the crash was .087, just over the amount at which Florida law presumes a driver to be impaired.

"It was a tragic accident with unintended consequences," said Denis de Vlaming, a Clearwater attorney representing Turnbull.

De Vlaming said Turnbull and Vazquez lived next door to each other in a duplex and had only recently met.

The day of the crash, they'd been out on the water with a group of people. Turnbull was on his watercraft; others were split between two boats.

According to court records, the friends drank at the Tropix bar at Clearwater Pass and were returning to a home in Indian Rocks Beach via the Intracoastal about 7:30 p.m.

Somewhere along the way, the vessels ran aground. Turnbull began ferrying people to shore.

"It was then that Victor said, 'Oh, my God, I left my wallet on the boat,' " de Vlaming said. "He begged my client to take him back."

Turnbull drove. It was already past sundown.

Turnbull told authorities the crash happened about 8:30 p.m. on the way back to shore. He said they'd been going about 40 to 50 miles per hour when they hit something. Investigators with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission later located a broken channel marker.

Turnbull got Vazquez back onto the watercraft and went to shore. Efforts to revive Vazquez were unsuccessful. Turnbull suffered minor injuries.

Turnbull violated navigational rules by not using "all available means" to determine if the risk of a collision existed, court records say. He also should not have been operating a personal watercraft more than 30 minutes after sunset, which was shortly after 6:30 p.m., records say.

De Vlaming said both men's families have been supportive. He said Vazquez's family, who could not be reached Thursday, asked Turnbull to be at the funeral and spread his ashes.

"It surprised everybody that he was at the legal limit," de Vlaming said Thursday.

Turnbull was booked in the Pinellas County Jail and released Thursday night on $50,000 bail.

Kameel Stanley can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8643.

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