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Freak crash injures Delaware politician

It was a bright, warm fall morning Oct. 30 when Delaware state senator Robert Lee Venables and a friend — Ralph Gootee, 76 — left on a fishing trip from Ragged Point about 14 miles west of Cambridge, Md.

Venables had brought along his two dogs, a standard and miniature poodle.

At about 10:30 a.m. Venables’ miniature poodle tried to jump on his lap and obscured his vision, causing the 16-foot Tracker Grizzly jon boat to hit a marker, says Venables. The accident knocked all four — pets and humans — out of the boat. Venables and his friend were wearing PFDs.

“It was just a freak accident,” says Venables, 76. “We’ve been in that area numerous times before and have been fine.”

Venables says he was briefly knocked unconscious, but came to shortly thereafter and discovered the 25-hp 4-stroke Yamaha outboard had somehow been knocked into neutral when the crew went overboard. Venables estimates they had been traveling at about 15 miles per hour before impact and they were about a quarter-mile offshore. Sgt. Art Windemuth of the Natural Resources Police estimates the water was between 50 and 60 degrees that day. The NRP do not believe alcohol was a factor in the accident.

“I was able to get back into the boat and get the dogs back in and Ralph, who was still unconscious,” says Venables. “I got everyone back to shore, brought the boat in and called 911.”

The paramedics arrived shortly before 11 a.m. and treated both Venables and Gootee. They were medevaced to the University of Maryland Medical Center shock trauma center in Baltimore by the state police.

Venables’ daughter picked up the two dogs, who were frightened but unharmed. Venables suffered an injured kidney and a fractured eye socket; he was treated and released from the hospital later that night. Gootee had a broken collarbone and required stitches on his head, but was released the following day.

“I don’t even remember my side hurting after I got back in the boat — it must have been pure adrenaline,” says Venables.

At press time, Venables still felt dizzy at times but was recovering gradually. Venables says he has been an avid fisherman for many years and, despite the accident, hopes to be back out on the water soon.

This article originally appeared in the Mid-Atlantic Home Waters Section of the January 2010 issue.