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Runaway boat kills woman on Connecticut River

A Connecticut man has been charged with reckless operation of a vessel while intoxicated

A Connecticut man has been charged with reckless operation of a vessel while intoxicated

What was supposed to a pleasant day sailing the Connecticut River turned tragic for four Connecticut boaters when an unmanned center console ran over their 14-foot sailboat, killing one passenger and injuring the other three.

The operator of the 20-foot Everglades center console, Gregory Siege, 44, of Madison, Conn., was arrested in connection with the July 8 accident and charged with one count of first-

degree reckless operation of a vessel while intoxicated, the state Department of Environmental Protection says in a statement. He was released on a promise to appear in superior court later that month.

Siege, who was not wearing a lanyard kill switch, apparently fell overboard off Old Saybrook, Conn., on the Connecticut River just north of its confluence with Long Island Sound. The center console continued on, running in circles until it struck the sailboat at 3:50 p.m., sending its four passengers into the water, the DEP says. The passengers were Leland and Susan Brandes, 69 and 53, of South Windsor, Conn., and Franklin and Joan Spector, who are both 61 and of Monroe, Conn. Susan Brandes was pronounced dead at the scene. The other passengers were transported to area hospitals for treatment.

“It was a violent accident,” says Paul Uccello, operations manager of TowBoatU.S. of Old Saybrook. Three of Uccello’s boats responded to the accident.

“You could see the prop marks across the deck and down the gunwale on the starboard side [of the sailboat],” Uccello says. “It looked like the boat went right over at full speed, and broke the mast.”

When Uccello arrived at the scene, the crews of two of his boats and a recreational boat had hoisted the stricken sailors from the water. The center console, however, was still “circling out of control,” he says. A boat from Sea Tow also responded, Uccello says. Tom Kehlenbach, owner of Sea Tow Old Saybrook, did not return calls for comment.

As the crews attempted to corral the runaway boat, Uccello noticed a dog standing on the bow. “We were trying to throw a tow line over the boat in hopes of it fouling the prop,” Uccello explains. “After the fifth or six try, the dog got scared and jumped off. That boat ran right over where the dog landed in the water. I was sure he was dead.”

The dog reappeared moments later, still alive. “He was paddling like I never saw,” says Uccello. “What a survivor.”

After several more attempts, one crewmember managed to board Siege’s boat and turn off the engine and tow it to shore. “There were a lot of people around watching, and everyone was blowing their horns and screaming once we managed to stop that boat,” Uccello says.

As of mid-July, the state DEP’s boating accident reconstruction unit was still working on the case and has requested people with information for investigators or the state’s attorney’s office to call (860) 424-3333.

If convicted of first-degree reckless operation of a vessel while intoxicated, Siege faces up to two years in jail and a maximum fine of $5,000.