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Man charged in Lake Tarpon boating death

Patricia Blankenship was a star softball pitcher at Pasco’s Mitchell High School for four years. “There is no sentencing that is going to make me feel better,” said her mother.

Special to the Times

Patricia Blankenship was a star softball pitcher at Pasco’s Mitchell High School for four years. “There is no sentencing that is going to make me feel better,” said her mother.

Tragedy struck Patricia Blankenship last April in the form of a boat propeller.

The 21-year-old former high school softball star from Holiday was riding on Lake Tarpon with her fiance and two friends when their boat crashed into another one. She was tossed into the water and mauled by the propeller. She later died.

After five months, authorities arrested Jeremy D. Rettman, 32, of Oldsmar, on Wednesday, charging him with vessel homicide. Rettman, who was operating the boat, officials said, had enough alcohol and marijuana in his system to deem him under the influence. He also let his 10-year-old daughter drive while he held the throttle.

On Thursday, he was being held in the Pinellas County Jail in lieu of $50,000 bail.

Penny Barnett, 42, said it's extremely painful to think back to April 5, the day of her daughter's crash.

That Saturday started off innocuously enough. Rettman headed out on the water about 11 a.m. in a 16-foot Hydrosport. He brought along his 10-year-old daughter and one of his friends, Justin Shields, then 23. They spent the morning and early afternoon tubing and cruising around the lake.

Sometime around 3 or 4 p.m., the boat stopped to pick up Blankenship, who was Shields' fiancee. The group was heading back to the dock at Anderson Park, on the west side of the lake, when the crash occurred. It was about 6:30 p.m, according to the arrest warrant.

Rettman had given his young daughter the wheel to steer while he kept his hand on the throttle, the arrest warrant said. All of a sudden, someone shouted "Boat!" The Hydrosport went over a 21-foot boat at anchor, throwing the three adults into the water.

By the time they were all brought aboard, Blankenship had been mauled by the propeller. Her mother said it chopped into her daughter's arm, cut two arteries, and gashed the left side of her body, breaking all her ribs on that side. She was taken to Tampa General Hospital where she underwent two major surgeries and lost a large amount of blood.

She died 10 days later.

Shields told the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office that the three adults had been smoking marijuana and drinking beer that afternoon. Barnett insists all that happened before her daughter came aboard.

Blood drawn from Rettman after the crash found alcohol levels of 0.193 and 0.195, more than twice the level at which the state presumes intoxication. Rettman also had enough marijuana in his system for the medical examiner to consider him under the influence.

The loss of Blankenship left her family devastated and Rettman's arrest offers no consolation.

"No matter what the sentencing is, no matter what he's sentenced to, at April 15 at exactly 8 p.m. when my daughter took her last breath, me and my family were sentenced to life," Barnett said. "My daughter, she was sentenced to death. There is no sentencing that is going to make me feel better."

Blankenship graduated from Pasco's Mitchell High School in 2004. She was a star pitcher at the school all four years, winning Sunshine Athletic Conference honors, her mother said.

She was very close with her family, and that's what makes her loss so tough.

"I hear so many different stories it's just ridiculous. I'm still searching for the truth on who was driving the boat," Barnett said.

Rettman, the man accused in her death, had a history of arrests for driving-related offenses such as DUI, driving with a suspended or revoked license and reckless driving. If convicted of the second-degree felony, he could face up to 15 years in prison.

Barnett said Rettman's daughter, who shares a June 19 birthday with her own daughter, is also a victim.

"I hope and pray that that little girl is okay with everything that is going on in her little life, down to her father being arrested, down to what she saw on that boat," Barnett said. "It had to be gruesome what that kid saw on that boat and I think about her every day.''

Jonathan Abel can be reached at jabel@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4157.

Man charged in Lake Tarpon boating death 09/11/08 [Last modified: Monday, September 15, 2008 3:49pm]
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