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Racers rescued after speedboat collision

Two boats speeding along at 70 mph during a charity race collided Sunday afternoon, tossing all six passengers into the gulf waters off Siesta Key and seriously injuring one man.

The crash occurred during the Suncoast Offshore Grand Prix, an annual race off Sarasota County. Both boats flipped and landed upside down after a 46-foot boat miscalculated its path around a 28-foot speedboat, race chairman Gene Whipp said.

"We're real thrilled that the injuries were minor, and we had a great weekend," Whipp said.

The crash happened about 1:30 p.m. as the boats were rounding the sixth turn of the race, a 90-degree swing at the southernmost point of the course, Whipp said. (Race results appear in Section C). The 28-foot boat, driven by George Scopetta of Key Biscayne, was making the turn at an estimated 70 mph when the larger boat, competing in the Super Boat class and driven by Dan Campbell of Fort Lauderdale, attempted to pass, Whipp said.

Campbell and his partners mistakenly decided to pass on the inside of the turn, Whipp said. The bigger boat's wider trajectory forced it to collide with the smaller one, he said.

"He slid out into the boat," Whipp said. "He hit the occupants in the smaller boat."

The Coast Guard plucked all six men from the water, Petty Officer Gene Maestas said.

Only Scopetta suffered serious injuries. Rescuers used a helicopter to hoist him to safety and transport him to land for medical help. At the time, he was complaining of chest pains and was slipping in and out of consciousness, Coast Guard Petty Officer Antonio Aguilar said.

Whipp said Scopetta suffered some broken ribs and possibly a punctured lung. He was listed in serious condition Sunday night at Sarasota Memorial Hospital.

"Doctors feel very optimistic he'll be released in a couple of days," Whipp said.

The race chairman said such accidents are a known risk. That's why boaters in offshore races wear special protective gear, including helmets and life jackets similar to bullet-proof vests, he said.

This was the first such accident in the race's 11 years, Whipp said.

"We have been very, very fortunate down here," he said. "While offshore racing has had bad situations, we've had an almost flawless record. We're feeling good for George."

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