INDIAN SHORES — A 16-year-old girl was killed and six other teens were ejected when a speeding boat slammed into a channel marker in the Intracoastal Waterway about 1 a.m. Sunday.
The group was heading back from a Halloween night party near the Treasure Island Causeway when the crash occurred off Indian Shores, Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said at a news conference Sunday.
The victim was identified as Rachel Herring. The driver, a 16-year-old boy from the Harbor Bluffs neighborhood west of Largo, was arrested on a charge of vessel homicide, Gualtieri said.
Some of the teens on board had been drinking on the way to the party and the driver was seen drinking at the party hours before the crash, the sheriff said. But the driver showed no signs of impairment immediately afterward, he said.
The Tampa Bay Times is not identifying him because of his age. A man who spoke to a reporter at the boy’s home declined to comment.
The boat was headed north on the Intracoastal when it hit the channel marker, ejecting all on board, then continued traveling northwest until it slammed into a sea wall in the 2000 block of Gulf Boulevard in Indian Shores.
Herring apparently drowned, and another teen was taken to Bayfront Hospital for treatment of minor injuries, Gualtieri said. None of the others on board were undergoing medical treatment Sunday.
Some of the teens attended Osceola Fundamental High School in Seminole, the sheriff said.
“This is very tragic,” he said. “You’ve got a 16-year-old girl that’s deceased, and it doesn’t get any worse than that.”
Gualtieri gave this account:
A group of friends, ages 16 and 17, left for the party about 7:30 p.m. from the waterfront home of the driver, on Harbor View Lane. They picked up another teen on the way, and he brought aboard alcoholic beverages, including beer and hard seltzer.
Some of the teens drank alcohol as they motored south on the Intracostal aboard the 2014, 24-foot, center-console Yellowfin, powered by a 400-horsepower Mercury outboard. They headed for the Treasure Island area and arrived about 9 p.m. for a party at a home in St. Petersburg, near the causeway.
As many as 40 teens attended the party, gathering on the first floor of the house while adults got together on the second floor. Some, including teens from the boat, were drinking alcohol and smoking marijuana.
The group left the party about 12:15 a.m. and dropped one teen off before heading toward the driver’s home. On the way, the driver brought the boat up on plane and plowed into the metal channel marker at a high rate of speed, ejecting all aboard. The area is in a no-wake zone.
Herring was later located with help from an app on the phone she carried. She was in the middle of the waterway about half a mile south of the crash scene.
None of the teens were wearing personal flotation devices. The impact of the crash was great enough to move the channel marker.
Witnesses said the driver had been drinking at the party, but he showed no signs of impairment when deputies evaluated him after the crash, Gualtieri said.
“Now, just because he wasn’t under the influence doesn’t mean there’s not criminal culpability, but it’s not based on drugs or alcohol,” he said.
The boat had been recently acquired by the driver’s family and had not been registered yet with the state. Not all of the running lights were in operation at the time of the crash. Detectives obtained a search warrant for the boat and hoped to recover electronic data that might tell them more about the crash.
Detectives also were investigating the circumstances of the St. Petersburg party, Gualtieri said.
Herring’s mother was out of state Sunday and was flying back with help from the Sheriff’s Office, he said. Her father was speaking Sunday with a victim’s advocate from the office.
Staff writer Anastasia Dawson contributed to this report.