Pair chases down hit-and-run boaters

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When Bud Hunt’s Sea Ray is hit on its lift, he hops on his PWC and his neighbor pursues in a Mako

When Bud Hunt’s Sea Ray is hit on its lift, he hops on his PWC and his neighbor pursues in a Mako

Two boat owners teamed up to track down a pair of men who apparently tried to get away with a hit-and-run accident on a tidal river near Tampa, Fla.

On the day after Christmas, two men in a 16-foot Carolina Skiff hit the 2007 Sea Ray 290 Sundancer that Bud Hunt keeps on a lift outside his home on the Alafia River in Riverview, Fla., according to the owner. Hunt says the men then left the scene of the accident. The damage to the Sea Ray’s boat and drive was estimated at about $15,000, the owner says.

At press time, police hadn’t determined who was driving the boat; there also were three children aboard the skiff. No driving-under-the-influence charges will be filed, and no one was hurt in the accident, according to Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officer Stuart Messman. The case remained open in mid-January, and charges could be filed, according to Messman.

Hunt says the whole incident was unnecessary. “I don’t understand why they left,” says Hunt, 41, the former mayor of Riverview. “I’m a nice guy. I try to be nice to everyone. We could have worked it out easily.”

David Crannell, 60, an experienced boater who lives across the river and helped Hunt chase down the skiff, agrees. “It was unnecessary,” says Crannell, who also owns a Nordhavn 60 and has done extensive passagemaking. “All they had to do was give Bud their name and information.”

Here’s how the events unfolded, according to Hunt and Crannell.

Hunt was on the porch of his home as the skiff traveled west at about 20 mph. The operator appeared to lose control of the boat, head toward the riverbank, then suddenly veer back into the river, striking the Sea Ray’s port outdrive, a MerCruiser Bravo Three with twin stainless steel props, Hunt says. The boat was lower to the water than usual because Hunt and his wife, Sandi, were about cruise to a friend’s house to exchange Christmas gifts.

Concerned about the safety of the boat’s occupants, Hunt says he ran down the dock and began asking if everyone was all right. “They didn’t answer me and acted like I wasn’t even there,” says Hunt. “Then they took off. I said ‘Hey, where you going? You just crashed into my boat.’ I went from being concerned to being livid.”

Little did Hunt — or the crew aboard the skiff — know that Crannell had heard the collision. And when he saw the skiff take off, so did he, pursuing the boat in his 17-foot Mako. Hunt ran up to his house, fetched the keys to his Sea-Doo PWC, and joined the chase. Hunt’s wife dialed 911.

Hunt, driving the speedy PWC, says he was first to catch the skiff, which was powered with a small outboard. “They were pitching beer bottles out of the boat,” he says. “They became very confrontational with me.” In fact, Hunt says the men challenged him a fight, he says. One said, “Get off the jet ski and we’ll beat your ass,” says Hunt.

Crannell then pulled alongside in his Mako, telling the men that he had heard the crash and that they couldn’t just leave — and that they were setting a bad example for the children on board. “They never stopped to talk,” says Crannell. “We were going about 5 mph.” Crannell says they remained belligerent and also threatened him, so he backed off.

Crannell and Hunt followed the boat back to the ramp where the skiff had been launched. Police began arriving five minutes later as the occupants were hauling the skiff. Officers took statements from Hunt, Crannell, and the adults and children in the skiff. Hunt says he heard one of the men tell officers that his 11-year-old son was driving the boat; Hunt says he saw an adult driving.

Hunt says damages to his boat and the drive are extensive. Marine technicians first thought only the drive needed work, but it later was discovered that the transom plate was cracked, which will allow water into the boat. The $6,900 plate must be replaced, and a steering pin in the port drive needs to be swapped out. Hunt was unsure whether the occupants of the Carolina Skiff had insurance. His insurance company is taking care of the entire $15,000 bill, though he had to pay a $500 deductible.

Hunt and Crannell did not know each other before the incident. “David was super,” says Hunt. “I think I’ll gain a friend over this.”