Boat sinks; six pulled from water by fellow boaters

Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 5, 2012

SALISBURY – Six people might have drowned last night on High Rock Lake if fellow boaters had not been alert to their plight.
According to Sgt. Anthony Sharum of the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, Jeffery Carol Lewis, 45, of Pine Ridge Road in Cooleemee, was operating a 15-foot motor boat that was “extremely overloaded for the size of the boat,” with five passengers in addition to Lewis.
At about 11 p.m., as the 1971 Glastron boat approached the Bringle Ferry Road bridge near Tamarac Marina, the wake from another boat hit the bow, or front of the boat, submerging the passengers in front.
As everyone in the boat moved to the rear, there was a loud popping or cracking noise, leading Sharum to believe the rear or transom of the boat split, and the boat sank.
Sharum said two of the six “could sort of swim.” Two could not swim at all and none were wearing life preservers; none were able to reach any preservers on the boat because “everything happened so fast.”
“As the boat’s passengers were splashing about and calling for help, fortunately, other boats in the area picked them up” even before law enforcement arrived.
Sharum gave credit to boat er Michael Hodgson, who is a Salisbury firefighter, along with Travis Ketchie, of Liberty Volunteer Fire Department; Austin File, Brittany Hill and Summer Curlee, who were the first ones there as it happened. “Hodgson and Ketchie and File dove into the water and began rescue,” Sharum said.
Hill and Curlee threw life preservers out to the victims.
On a second boat nearby were Sheila and Mike Holshouser and their family, who also helped in pulling victims from the water.
Liberty Volunteer Fire Department, Rowan County Sheriff’s Office, EMS and N.C. Wildlife all responded, Sharum said, to find that all victims were on shore. “One woman was sent to the hospital for other health issues.” All the other passengers declined treatment by EMS.
Following a review of what happened, Lewis was charged with negligent boat operation, a misdemeanor, and operation of motorboat with child under 13 not wearing a personal flotation device.
“The boat sank to the bottom and remains there as far as we know,” Sharum said. It’s in about 25 feet of water. The boat’s owner would be responsible for recovering it, but Sharum estimates it is a total loss.
“Without a doubt,” Sharum said, “I feel confident we would have had a fatality” without the help from Hodgson, Ketchie, File and the others.”