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Speedboat rams piling, passengers taken to hospitals

At least two people were injured Friday afternoon when a boat traveling at a high speed smashed into a piling near the Dunedin Causeway, said Coast Guard officials.

Authorities would not release the names of the victims Friday evening, and the extent of their injuries was not known.

The two boaters were thrown into the water during the crash. Good Samaritan boaters rescued them and took them to a nearby marina, said Coast Guard Petty Officer Oscar Guinart. Ambulances took the victims to nearby hospitals.

Bridge-tender Joe Boatwright saw the aftermath of the crash through his binoculars.

The open cockpit speedboat hit the 3-mile marker, which is about 150 yards north of the causeway. Boatwright said he overheard Coast Guard officials estimate the boat's speed at 30 or 35 knots.

"They sure hit that mile marker awful hard . . . square on," Boatwright said. "When they hit (the piling) it almost went to the center of the boat. The boat was kind of wrapped around it."

The mile marker is metal, Boatwright said, and marks the edge of the channel. The seas were calm and boat traffic was low, Boatwright said.

Boatwright watched the Coast Guard tow the ruined speedboat underneath the Dunedin Causeway Bridge and toward a marina.

"The whole right side is torn off it," Boatwright said. "Somebody was just not watching; there should always be somebody looking forward."

The Sand Key Coast Guard station helped with the rescue, Guinart said.

Officials are investigating.

"It was pretty bad, but right now we're trying to evaluate and get some information," said Gary Morse, spokesman for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, which also responded.

_ Adrienne P. Samuels can be reached at 445-4157 or