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Tourists enjoy holiday _ until their rented boat sinks

It sounded like the perfect way to spend the Fourth of July.

Vacationing from Pennsylvania, William and Linda Kibler wanted to live it up with a day on the water.

And perfect it was _ until their rented boat started to sink.

"You could see the water coming up over the back side of the boat," said William Kibler, still wet and winded from the ordeal. "It just filled _ like that."

But it got worse.

With two of the seven on board unable to swim, Kibler said he frantically called John's Pass Boat Rentals _ where they'd rented the 22-foot Renken deck boat _ seeking a rescue boat. But the manager told them there was no one available, Kibler said.

"It was bad," said Cassandra Pytlak, 22, who was not wearing a life jacket and said she couldn't reach one before the boat sank about 2:30 p.m. Friday. "All I kept thinking about was, "I can't swim, I can't swim.' "

A mile and a half off Treasure Island just south of John's Pass, the group splashed and waded for their lives in about 16 feet of water.

"I'm surprised I didn't have a panic attack," said Linda Kibler, who recently took a life jacket class with her husband. Mrs. Kibler also can't swim.

Their son, Brian Kibler, 25, dislocated his shoulder as he tried to jump from the sinking boat, William Kibler said. He was taken by ambulance to Palms of Pasadena Hospital where he was treated and released.

One other passenger had a minor injury.

Eventually, good Samaritans plucked the bunch from the water minutes after the boat went under. Water rescue workers from the U.S. Coast Guard, Pinellas County Sheriff's Office and Treasure Island Police Department arrived a few moments after.

Treasure Island police are investigating.

Later that day, the boat was towed back to John's Pass where it sat about 1,000 yards off shore, the bow sticking out of the water.

"The boat went out yesterday and everything was fine," said Gus Zeidler, co-owner of John's Pass Boat Rental at 12795 Kingfish Drive in Treasure Island. "It could be one of a thousand things _ something obviously happened, but we won't know until it's low tide."

That's when Zeidler said he can have the boat inspected for problems.

As for not being able to help when the tourists called, Zeidler was the one who would have gone out in a boat, but was on his way back from Tampa. He said by the time he got back the incident was over.

Manager Dick Wheaton said he talked to Kibler about five times over the course of an hour and did not sense the group was in peril.

"Not once did they say they were sinking," he said.

Still, Wheaton said he recruited a friend to make the trip. But by then the rescue was made.

"In the end, we're going to find out there was a legitimate reason for what happened," Wheaton said. "I don't think you can point the finger in any direction."

Zeidler, who had not heard from his customers by early evening, said he won't charge the group the $149 rental fee.

"Our main concern is that they are all okay," Zeidler said. "A boat is the least of our concerns _ the customer's safety is always our first. . . . I just hope we don't get sued."

_ Leon M. Tucker can be reached at (727) 445-4167 or tuckersptimes.com.

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