Fifteen anglers, and the captains and crews of the two anchored charter boats they were aboard could see that a collision was imminent.
A 53-foot luxury motoryacht was driving at speed in the channel leading from Chesapeake Bay to the Choptank River, toward the stern of one of the party boats, the 50-foot Bay-built deadrise Jil Carrie. The anglers and captains all were screaming and waving their arms, but no one on the yacht seemed to notice, and the boat didn’t slow down. At the last minute, according to one of the anglers, the yacht veered slightly, its port stern striking and smashing Jil Carrie’s starboard stern corner post. Then the half-million-dollar yacht, Price Pirates, rode over the entire starboard length of the charter boat, squashing it down in the water under its nearly 50,000 pounds, splintering wood and fiberglass in its wake.
One man aboard Jil Carrie was thrown overboard, and a woman’s back was wrenched in the July 7 accident, according to an official report. The man was retrieved by a nearby charter boat, and the woman was treated at a hospital close by. There were no other serious injuries.
A Maryland Department of Natural Resources police officer who investigated says in his report that contributing factors in the accident were “no proper lookout” and “operator inattention.” A DNR investigation was continuing a month later, and no charges had been filed.
Eyewitnesses, however, say there appeared to be no one at the controls of Price Pirates, a 2000 Carver 53 Voyager, as it hurtled across the water at close to its top cruising speed of 20 knots.
The operator of Price Pirates, Keith Price, who is 42 and of Landenberg, Pa., did not return a phone call to his home, although a woman who answered said he would. At the time of the accident, Price had been accompanied by Tammy Price, 42, Erin Melissa Price, 14, and Chloe Price, 6, according to the DNR report.
Capt. James Clifford Brincefield III, who is 54 and of Deale, Md., the owner and operator of Jil Carrie, referred all questions to his lawyer. The DNR says Brincefield had eight clients on board.
The accident occurred around noon under an overcast sky, according to witnesses. DNR officer Frank L. Ryan in his report says visibility was two to three miles, winds 10 to 15 mph, seas 1 to 2 feet, and it was spitting rain off and on.
James Perry of Washington, D.C., a 74-year-old customer on Jil Carrie, says he was about half-way forward on the port side of the boat — trying to stop some bleeding where he had cut his hand chipping ice with a knife — when the others in his party began screaming and waving their hands. “We looked up, and here comes this big boat in full flight,” Perry says. “Standing straight up in the water.”
Brincefield herded his customers forward, away from the transom, when a collision seemed certain, he says.
“At the last split second, the boat turned,” says Perry. “His bow missed us, and his tail end slammed us. I tell you, by the grace of God the boat turned. The way he was headed, he would have hit us head-on.”
Capt. William Arthur Fish — who had anchored his 46-foot custom workboat, Nancy Ellen, with his son and a party of seven about 300 yards from Jil Carrie — watched the incident unfold. “I called the Jil Carrie. ‘A boat’s coming at you pretty fast.’ The boat was going so quick that it came up on [Brincefield] really fast. I could hear Jim blowing his horn.”
Then Price Pirates hit Jill Carrie, Fish says. “It lifted the Price Pirates all the way up, and it hit the top of Jimmy’s canopy, leaping almost completely out of the water,” he says. “There was no deviation of course or speed when it hit Jil Carrie. It was a straight line going 20, 25 knots, and when it ricocheted, it just took off doing the same thing. If the Price Pirates was maybe another 2 feet to his port, it probably would have run right up into his cockpit.”
Fish says the yacht then kept going at the same speed for about 100 yards before it stopped. “That indicated to me there was nobody on the wheel,” he says. Fish says a second boat was following Price Pirates and slowed down immediately.
Fish says he and his passengers saw that one of Brincefield’s customers, 57-year-old Johnny Randolph of Washington, was in the water. Fish immediately raised his anchor and closed in on Randolph, who flailed in the water and went under four times before Fish’s customers, members of a Maryland fire department, seized him. They were unable to haul the 300-pound man aboard Nancy Ellen until Fish put a ladder over the side, Fish says.
Recreational fisherman Edward Woods was nearby in his 31-foot Grady-White, Big Buoy, with his girlfriend, Kelly Christine Crum, when he heard Brincefield call a mayday on the radio. He says visibility was “fine” as he raced toward the accident to offer help. He says he overheard a radio conversation, apparently between Price Pirates and its companion vessel, whose captain confirmed the good visibility at the time of the accident.
Fish says this wasn’t the first near-collision he has seen. “The main thing is, the boats nowadays are going too fast and are too automated,” he says. “You can punch in where you want to go and walk away from the wheel. The Chesapeake Bay is not that big. Boaters have to wake up. They have to have a lookout.”